Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/Blacks and the Priesthood

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Response to MormonThink page "Blacks and the Priesthood"



A FAIR Analysis of: MormonThink, a work by author: Anonymous
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Response to claims made on MormonThink page "Blacks and the Priesthood"


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Response to claim: "The leaders of the church up through the 1970s made it very clear why blacks were denied the priesthood"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The leaders of the church up through the 1970s made it very clear why blacks were denied the priesthood....Mike Wallace: From 1830 to 1978, blacks could not become priests in the Mormon church. Right?

Gordon B. Hinckley: That's correct. Mike Wallace: Why? Gordon B. Hinckley: Because the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine that way.

Critic's Comment: Hinckley has worked for the Church almost all of his life. He has been a General Authority since 1958. He was in Quorum of the Twelve meetings when the priesthood ban was discussed, for at least three decades. He was an Apostle for some 17 years of the priesthood ban. If any Church official would be qualified to answer this question it would be GBH. To not give a complete, truthful answer to these questions is disappointing to say the least. He should have stated whether or not the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine correctly or not - that's what people really want to know.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The leaders of the church did interpret the doctrine that way, and came up with reasons for the ban. Since there is no record of an actual revelation on the matter, the modern Church no longer accepts those explanations as valid.



Past General Authorities made statements regarding the priesthood ban that are considered quite racist by today's standards. The Church has "disavowed" the theories advanced in the past by these leaders, and while specific leaders' statements have not been officially individually renounced, there is no obligation for current members to accept such sentiments as the "word of the Lord" for our time: They most certainly do not reflect the Church's current position and teachings.

Gordon B. Hinckley: "I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ"

Gordon B. Hinckley,

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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?

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such. —(Click here to continue) [1]

Bruce R. McConkie: "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"

Bruce R. McConkie:

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.[2]

While Elder McConkie likely was limiting his remarks to mistakes made by past leaders in regards to the timing of the lifting of the ban, application of his insights can arguably be extended to a forgetting of all harmful "folk doctrines" about which post-1978 correlated church materials are either silent or have effectively corrected.

How have modern Church leaders reacted to the speculations of the past regarding the reason for the priesthood ban?

Modern Church leaders have advised us to avoid speculating without knowledge

Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[3]

Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

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 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. ...

It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don't know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. 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. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.[4]

Past leaders are not alive to apologize for statements that unwittingly contributed to difficulties for the faithful and stumbling blocks for those who might have otherwise have been more attracted to the overall goodness of Christ's gospel. Presumably they would join with another voice from the dust to plead for us to have charity towards them (Ether 12꞉35-36) despite their imperfections. Rather than condemning, we ought to "give thanks unto God...that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9꞉31).

Tolerance and equality are commanded

In 1972, Harold B. Lee cautioned:

We are having come into the Church now many people of various nationalities. We in the Church must remember that we have a history of persecution, discrimination against our civil rights, and our constitutional privileges being withheld from us. These who are members of the Church, regardless of their color, their national origin, are members of the church and kingdom of God. Some of them have told us that they are being shunned. There are snide remarks. We are withdrawing ourselves from them in some cases.

Now we must extend the hand of fellowship to men everywhere, and to all who are truly converted and who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. We ask the Church members to strive to emulate the example of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who gave us the new commandment that we should love one another. I wish we could remember that.[5]

How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

The goal of the Church is to bring people unto Christ

This is a difficult question. At face value, the idea that the Lord will not allow prophets to lead us astray seems to be in direct conflict with the Church acknowledging that early Church leaders and prophets were influenced by certain racist tendencies of their times. For example, how could the Priesthood restriction been allowed and yet be consistent with the prophets "not leading the Church astray?".

The first thing we must do is step back and see what the Church and prophets are all about.

What is the goal of the church?

According to Spencer W. Kimball, and reaffirmed by the other prophets it is as follows:

First, to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; Secondly, to perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; Thirdly, to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.) All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.) I renew that declaration today. [6]

The purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to Jesus Christ. The Church is the organization that Jesus set up on the Earth to bring people back to Jesus and back to God so we can be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

The prophets will not lead the Church astray from the mission of leading people to Christ: This does not exempt prophets from saying or doing things at times that may be incorrect

Will the prophets knowingly lead us astray from this mission? No. They won't. They will keep us on that path and we should follow them.

Is it at least possible that they will say and do things that aren’t the best? Or that they may make unwanted speculation about things that they shouldn't? Certainly. Just as one example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that it was doubtful that men would even go to the moon. He stated in the first edition of Answers to Gospel Questions:

Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.[7]

He later accepted a flag from the Apollo astronauts. When asked about this by a reporter, he stated, "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?"

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church. He has promised he will make it all right in the end.

Karl G. Maeser taught:

On one occasion he was going with a group of young missionaries across the alps. They were crossing a high mountain pass on foot. There were long sticks stuck into the snow of the glacier to mark the path so that travelers could find their way safely across the glacier and down the mountain on the other side.

When they reached the summit, Brother Maeser wanted to teach the young elders a lesson. He stopped at the pinnacle of the mountain and pointed to those sticks that they had followed. And he said, "Brethren, behold the priesthood of God. They are just common old sticks, but it’s the position that counts. Follow them and you will surely be safe. Stray from them and you will surely be lost." And so it is in the Church. We are called to leadership positions and given the power of the priesthood. And we are just common old sticks, but the position we are given counts. It is separate and apart from us, but while we hold it, we hold it. [8]

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed.

Just a few examples from history (There are also reprimands in the D&C: D&C 105:2). They started doing Baptism for the dead in the river in Nauvoo - until God stopped them. They started doing sealings of adoption- until God stopped them. Why didn't God stop the race issue? He did...but He just did it later in his time frame for His purpose.

So again, If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything that might be wrong, we will be disappointed. Prophets are learning and are being taught just as we are learning and being taught. Bruce R. McConkie stated that quite clearly. [9]

But, if we go in with the expectation that the prophets will keep us on the Gospel path, complete with the ordinances we need to return to our Heavenly Father, then we will know what it means that the prophets will never lead us astray.

In John 6, Jesus taught hard things:

66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

There is a possibility that we may get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ: He allows us to learn as we go along

Jesus has taught the words of eternal life. This is his Church. We will get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ. He allows us to learn as we go along. The prophets will not lead us astray from that goal of eternal life.

We should also fall back onto the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon in 1830. Nobody could have done that. There were things that Joseph Smith and scholars of the day did not know that are contained in the book. They would have written the opposite based on the science of the day.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It also means we have a prophet today. Will they lead us astray? Is that statement even true that they won't? The prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel path. Can they be incorrect on other issues-even involving the Church? Yes, they can. When they claim revelation and follow proper procedures to make something binding, then we bow to that. Brigham Young presented no formal revelation for implementing the priesthood restriction and there is no scripture that can justify the ban's existence. When the prophets haven't received revelation and are perhaps just trying to do good of their own free will as has been divinely mandated (D&C 58:27-28), then it is possible that they may get something wrong. We all have our free agency (2 Nephi 2: 16, 27; 10:23;) and the doctrine of infallibility is in direct contradiction to free agency.

Issues relating to the priesthood and temple restrictions are complicated ones, and we still have yet to learn more about them. As far as can be discerned, we haven't received any revelation as to why they happened. But, we should be open to the ideas that God allowed it to happen without revelation. Perhaps the restrictions were inspired and, like some of the fallen structures of the Old Testament, were inspired but also less than ideal (with the redemption of those fallen structures coming in New Testament times) and the Lord had a wiser purpose in mind in putting up with the restriction for the time it remained in place. Or perhaps they were simply a mistake like the Children of Israel and their appointment of a king when the Lord instructed them not to appoint one (1 Samuel 8: 5-22). Keep in mind that Israel had a king for 400 years while the restrictions lasted around 130. So the Lord can sometimes allow things to happen--even for a long time-- just so that we learn from mistakes. Perhaps, following a paradigm that Eugene England crafted and popularized, we can view the restrictions as something the Lord allowed so that we can learn today how to love those that have been most affected by it. As England put it:

Besides being the repository of true principles and authority, the Church is the instrument pro­vided by a loving God to help us become like him. It gives us schooling and experiences with each other that can bind us in an honest but loving community, which is the essential nurturing place for salvation. If we cannot accept the Church and the challenges it offers with the openness and courage and humility they require, then I believe our historical studies and our theological enterprises are mainly a waste of time and possibly destructive. We cannot understand the meaning of the history of Mormonism or judge the truth of Christ’s restored gospel unless we appreciate—and act on— the truth of the Church.

Thus the Church can give us all the necessary doctrines to learn the fullest meaning of love, but then it can also provide us all the evils, annoyances, discomforts, etc. of life so that we can have the opportunities necessary to put love into practice. Perhaps the existence of the restrictions can allow members not of African descent to learn how to relate to, empathize with, and heal the hearts of members of African descent from the pain they have experienced or do now experience because of the restrictions. Perhaps it can allow members of African descent the opportunity to learn forgiveness for a grave hurt that they have experienced at the hands of Church leaders and/or members. An approach similar to this is taken by Dr. W. Paul Reeve: a historian that specializes in the history of blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[10]

All this said, we simply don't know why the restrictions happened and any speculation is as good as the next. Only time and revelation will allow us to understand why these things happened. Regardless, we can see that the Church can still be God's authorized vehicle for revelation and have the priesthood (thus still being true) and have the possibility of error.

What did Church leaders after Brigham Young think of the priesthood ban?

John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young

In 1879, John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young, despite receiving mixed information.[11] As part of this investigation Zebedee Coltrin recalled that Joseph Smith said in 1834 that "the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro had no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood." However, this claim is suspect given Coltrin's errors on the circumstances of Elijah Abel's ordination, participation in Kirtland temple ordinances, and retention in the Seventies quorum all under the supervision of Joseph Smith.[12]

President George Q. Cannon in 1895 asserted that some of Young's teachings about miscegenation and the seed of Cain had first been taught by Joseph Smith.[13]

B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham

Nearly forty years after the ban started, B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham.[14]

Joseph Fielding Smith opined that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan

In 1907 Joseph Fielding Smith rejected less valiance in the pre-mortal existence as an explanation for the restrictions entirely. In 1924, he wrote as if he were more open to it, though he still kept it in the realm of speculation. By 1931, he embraced the explanation wholeheartedly--opining that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan (however, he rejected that they may have been neutral in the war in heaven).[15]

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord"

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord." There is a statement from them in 1949 that "was never released as a circular, officially read to congregations, or included in James R. Clark's comprehensive six-volume Messages of the First Presidency series. It was likely drafted as a letter sent in response to public inquiries."[16]

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949.[17]

David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy"

  • David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy," as reported by Sterling McMurrin,[18] his son Llewelyn McKay,[19] and Elder Paul H. Dunn.[20] President McKay told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."[21] Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 he confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, "I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone."[22]
  • The "Missouri policy theory" attributing the ban to Joseph Smith arising from condition in Missouri was first popularized in 1970 by author Stephen Taggert,[23] and President Hugh B. Brown reportedly embraced it.[24] Other authors found this theory wanting.[25]

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban

  • Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban,[26] though Church Historian Leonard Arrington
...asserts that President Lee, shortly before his death, sought the Lord's will on the question of blacks and the priesthood during'three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple,...but the only answer he received was "not yet." Arrington relied on an unidentified person close to President Lee, but President Lee's son-in-law and biographer found no record of such an incident and thought it doubtful.[27]

Following Joseph Fielding Smith's death, President Lee did say, "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks...It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."[28]

President Kimball said that the day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but should the day come it will be a matter of revelation

President Kimball began his administration by holding a press conference. When asked about the ban, he said:

[I have given it] "a great deal of thought, a great deal of prayer. The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord."[29]

He had previously written to his son:

"...I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough...I know the Lord could change His policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error (?) which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure."[30]

In 1976, he mentioned

"his concern for giving the priesthood to all men, and said that he had been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer...but I am going to keep praying about it."[31]

Repudiated ideas about race

Neutral in war in heaven

Less valiant in war in heaven

Interracial marriage

First Presidency

Brigham Young

Mark E. Petersen

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 16. ( Index of claims )


Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006)
  2. 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.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  4. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.
  5. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 384.
  6. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remember the Mission of the Church" (April 1982)
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
  8. Boyd K. Packer, "It Is the Position That Counts" (June 1977)
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike Unto God". (18 Aug 1978)
  10. W. Paul Reeve, "Race, the Priesthood, and Temples," in Raising the Standard of Truth: Exploring the History and Teachings of the Early Restoration, ed. Scott C. Esplin (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020), 429–33.
  11. Neither White nor Black, 77–78.
  12. Neither White nor Black, 60–61, 77–78.
  13. Neither White nor Black, 79–81.
  14. B.H. Roberts, "To the Youth of Israel," The Contributor 6 (May 1885): 296–97.
  15. Stevenson, "For the Cause of Righteousness", 308-9;Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 65.
  16. Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 310.
  17. The period of Latter-day Saint history in which this statement was penned reflected the time in which the racial theories had become most crystallized in Latter-day Saint consciousness. Two previous official communications to Dr. Lowry Nelson (in which it was stated that "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church...that the Negros are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." and that interracial marriage was "most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now." and that it was "contrary to Church doctrine") demonstrate this. See Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness, 302–12 for an excellent commentary on the major documents of this period including the Lowry Nelson Letters, this 1949 First Presidency draft, and the evolution of Mormon thought from the turn of the 20th century to the 1950s that shaped attitudes surrounding the priesthood and temple restrictions.
  18. Sterling M. McMurrin and and L. Jackson Newell, Matters of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin On Philosophy, Education, and Religion (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1996), 199–201; cited in Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
  19. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17.
  20. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5–, footnote 17.
  21. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20 working draft, 13.
  22. Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 21-22; Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104; Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 120; W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 259: "In contrast, McKay, as president, believed divine intervention necessary regardless of the restriction's origins, something he reportedly sought but did not receive."
  23. Steven Taggert, Mormonism's Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1970).
  24. Edwin B. Firmage, "Hugh B. Brown in His Final Years," Sunstone 11:6 no. (Issue #67) (November 1987), 7–8. off-site
  25. Newell G. Bringhurst, "The 'Missouri Thesis' Revisited: Early Mormonism, Slavery, and the Status of Black People," in Newel K. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, eds., Black and Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 13. ISBN 978-0252073564. ISBN 0252073568.
  26. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, 204–205.
  27. Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22, footnote 105; citing for the affirmative Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian and Arrington to author, February 10 and June 15, 1998; for the negative, L. Brent Goates, interview by author, February 9, 1998.
  28. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.
  29. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 1; citing Charles J. Seldin, "Priesthood of LDS Opened to Blacks," Salt Lake City Tribune (10 June 1978), 1A.
  30. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 4; citing letter of 15 June 1963 to Edward Kimball.
  31. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 7; citing F. Burton Howard to author, June 15, 1995; F. Burton Howard, interview by author, July 30, 2002.

Response to claim: "The term 'white' was changed to 'pure' in 1981"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

2 Nephi 30: 6

"...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people." NOTE: THE TERM 'WHITE' WAS CHANGED TO 'PURE' IN 1981.
....
Although the Mormon Church will not make available the handwritten manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the RLDS Church has the handwritten printer's copy, which was given to the printer to set the type for the first printing. It too, agrees with the 1830 Edition. It reads "white".

So, someone originally wrote "white" (1830) and then someone changed it to "pure" (1840) and then back to "white" (after 1840) and then finally to "pure" (1981).

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The change was made by Joseph Smith in 1836; it was not made under the influence of science or DNA.


Question: Why was the phrase "white and delightsome" changed to "pure and delightsome" in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #57: What Does it Mean to be a White and Delightsome People? (Video)

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition, lost, and then restored again in the 1981 edition

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition but because subsequent editions were based off the European editions (which followed the 1837 edition), the change did not get perpetuated until the preparation of the 1981 edition. The change is not (as the critics want to portray it) a "recent" change designed to remove a "racist" original.

The idea that the Church has somehow "hidden" the original text or manuscripts of the Book of Mormon in order to hide this is simply unbelievable. Replicas of the 1830 Book of Mormon are easily obtained on Amazon.com, and the text is freely available online. In addition, Royal Skousen has extensively studied the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and published a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon. The claim by the critics that the Church has somehow hidden these items is seriously outdated.

The change in the 1840 edition was probably made by Joseph Smith

This change actually first appeared in the 1840 edition, and was probably made by Joseph Smith:

  • 2 Nephi 30꞉6 (1830 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
  • 2 Nephi 30꞉6 (1840 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a pure and a delightsome people."

The 1837 edition was used for the European editions, which were in turn used as the basis for the 1879 and 1920 editions, so the change was lost until the 1981 edition

This particular correction is part of the changes referred to in the note "About this Edition" printed in the introductory pages:

"Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith."

It’s doubtful that Joseph Smith had racism in mind when the change was done in 1840 or other similar verses would have been changed as well.

The "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator

Furthermore, "white" was a synonym for "pure" at the time Joseph translated the Book of Mormon:

3. Having the color of purity; pure; clean; free from spot; as white robed innocence....5. Pure; unblemished....6. In a scriptural sense, purified from sin; sanctified. Psalm 51.[1]

Thus, the "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator.


Response to claim: "Slaves were bought and sold in Utah Territory with the approval of Brigham Young"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Slaves were bought and sold in Utah Territory with the approval of Brigham Young. "By 1850 there were approximately sixty blacks residing in the Utah Territory. The majority were slaves living in Salt Lake, Davis, and Utah counties."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Latter-day Saint scripture forbade slavery (Alma 27꞉9-10, D&C 101꞉79), but Latter-day Saints (like believers in every age) did not always live up to the light given them. Those who practiced slavery during a historical time in which it was legal will have to answer to God's justice and mercy.


Response to claim: "Under President Jimmy Carter, Brigham Young University and possibly the LDS Church itself was in danger of losing their tax exempt status if they continued to discriminate against blacks"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The Church has maintained that the 1978 revelation giving blacks the priesthood was not due to any form of public pressure but was simply God's will that blacks should not be given the priesthood until 1978.. ..... Under President Jimmy Carter, Brigham Young University and possibly the LDS Church itself was in danger of losing their tax exempt status if they continued to discriminate against blacks. In early 1978, the Federal Government was threatening to withhold Federal Student Loans to BYU students as long as BYU practiced "discrimination". A particular complication was the possibility that the Church Educational Institutions could lose their tax-exempt status due to discrimination. This could cost the Church tens of millions of dollars. The Church has always denied that financial considerations have played a role. However, in 1976, the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University was withdrawn revoked retroactively to 1970 because it did not allow blacks. Something similar could very well have happened to BYU if the courts felt the LDS Church practiced description [discrimination].

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Quoting a rumor which circulates among critics of the Church does not constitute data. Where is the data that "Brigham Young University and possibly the LDS Church itself was in danger of losing their tax exempt status" or the "possibility that the Church Educational Institutions could lose their tax-exempt status due to discrimination"? Comparing the situation of BYU to that of Bob Jones University is simply speculation on the part of the critics.



Was the priesthood ban lifted as the result of social or government pressure?

Social pressure was actually on the decline after the Civil Rights movement and coordinated protests at BYU athletic events ceased in 1971

Jan Shipps, a Methodist scholar and celebrated scholar of Mormon history and culture, considers it factual that "this revelation came in the context of worldwide evangelism rather than domestic politics or American social and cultural circumstances." She wrote:

A revelation in Mormondom rarely comes as a bolt from the blue; the process involves asking questions and getting answers. The occasion of questioning has to be considered, and it must be recalled that while questions about priesthood and the black man may have been asked, an answer was not forthcoming in the ‘60s when the church was under pressure about the matter from without, nor in the early ‘70s when liberal Latter-day Saints agitated the issue from within. The inspiration which led President Kimball and his counselors to spend many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple pleading long and earnestly for divine guidance did not stem from a messy situation with blacks picketing the church’s annual conference in Salt Lake City, but was "the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth." [2]

Gospel Topics: "Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics (2013):

Brazil in particular presented many challenges. Unlike the United States and South Africa where legal and de facto racism led to deeply segregated societies, Brazil prided itself on its open, integrated, and mixed racial heritage. In 1975, the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil. As the temple construction proceeded, Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed. Their sacrifices, as well as the conversions of thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians in the 1960s and early 1970s, moved Church leaders.[3]—(Click here to continue)

Did President Jimmy Carter threaten the Church's tax-exempt status because of their policy on blacks and the priesthood?

President Carter had a brief meeting with President Kimball, Representative Gunn McKay, and Representative Jim Santini on 11 March 1977 at the White House

On March 11, 1977 at 12:03 pm President Carter met with Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Representative Gunn McKay (D-Utah), and Representative Jim Santini (D-Nevada) for approximately 20 minutes in the White House.[4] This meeting, noted in President Carter's White House diary, is popularly rumored among ex-Mormons to be the meeting in which Carter threatened the Church with a rescinding of the Church's tax-exempt status over the issue of the priesthood ban.

An image of a page from President Jimmy Carter's White House diary for the day of 11 March 1977 showing a meeting with President Spencer W. Kimball. The Daily Diary of President Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter Library & Museum off-site

President Carter visited Salt Lake City on November 27 1978 for program in the Salt Lake Tabernacle

One ex-Mormon on the Recovery from Mormonism message board claimed to have located an "the actual photograph" of the 11 March 1977 meeting on LDS.org! [5] That photograph, however, is actually of a meeting in the Tabernacle on November 27, 1978.

President Kimball presents U.S. President Jimmy Carter with statue, Salt Lake Tabernacle, November 27, 1978. Photo located on https://www.lds.org/churchhistory/presidents/controllers/potcController.jsp?leader=12&topic=multimedia#

This meeting was documented in the January 1979 Ensign:

Two presidents saluted the family as one of life’s greatest institutions at a special November 27 program in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, culminating National Family Week in the United States.

Before a capacity crowd, with national and international television cameras whirring, President Spencer W. Kimball urged his listeners to recognize the family as "our chief source of physical, emotional, and moral strength." He presented United States President Jimmy Carter with a bronze statuette depicting the family circle. The miniature of a father, mother, and child is based on the original work by Utah sculptor Dennis Smith, Circle of Love, one of the pieces in the Relief Society monument to women in Nauvoo. [6]

President Kimball wrote a letter to President Carter in May 1977 to present a copy of Carter's genealogy

President Kimball wrote a letter to President Carter in May 1977, only two months after the March 11 meeting:

W. Don Ladd, Regional Representative of the Twelve, and Thomas E. Daniels of the Genealogical Department of the Church presented a family tree and a leather-bound volume of genealogical information on the Carter family to the President on 31 May.

The book included a letter to President Carter from President Spencer W. Kimball, in which he spoke of the Latter-day Saints’ "deep reverence and gratitude for our ancestors, which in turn gives us greater sense of responsibility to our posterity."

President Carter found the Church’s research "very exciting to me," and he said, "I look forward to studying the chart. This is an area of knowledge I’ve never had." The two-inch thick volume included several 8-by-10-inch pedigree charts and family group sheets, along with a research summary of each line researched and what was still missing from those lines. This is the first time the Church has ever given such a gift to a president of the United States. [7]

The allegation that the LDS church's tax-free status was threatened in 1978 seems to have originated prior to 1988, and resurfaced in 2001

On June 2, 1988, the Chicago Tribune quoted "critics" of the Church as speculating that Kimball's meeting with Carter involved the threat of the Church losing its tax exemption. The Tribune quotes Ogden Kraut, whom they stated was an "an excommunicated Mormon fundamentalist writer-photographer":

Despite church claims that the change came from revelation, critics say the move was pure business, that the Mormons wanted to expand further into black Third World countries and would not be able to do so as long as blacks were discriminated against, and that the Mormon church, the fastest growing mainstream church in the U.S., stood to lose its tax-exempt status for discriminating against blacks.

``We were told by a secretary in the church that Spencer Kimball spent 36 minutes talking to President (Jimmy) Carter, and shortly thereafter, the so-called `revelation` came down,`` said Ogden Kraut, an excommunicated Mormon fundamentalist writer-photographer.

Fundamentalist Mormons take the Bible and the Book of Mormon literally, and insist that God doesn`t make revelations to earthlings, Kraut said.

``My belief is that it was the expedient thing to do. The church didn`t want to lose its exemption,`` Kraut said. [8]

The claim resurfaced in 2001 when a claim that the federal government had threatened to revoke the Church's tax-exempt status back in 1978 was made by a woman named Kathy Erickson in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune on March 11, 2001. Erickson stated,

Gainful Revelation Date: March 11, 2001

What’s done is done. There no longer is any prejudice against blacks in the Mormon church, the power of money took care of that. Back in 1978 the federal government informed the LDS Church that unless it allowed blacks full membership (including the priesthood) they would have to cease calling themselves a non-profit organization and start paying income taxes. On $16.5 million a day in tithing alone that’s a lot of tax monies that could be better used in building up the Kingdom of God.

The church immediately saw the error of its ways and the brethren appealed to God for a revelation; it came quickly. God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, and today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has nothing but love for all races of people on Earth."[9]

A representative of the Church Public Affairs department responded:

Distorted History Thursday, April 5, 2001

It's one thing to distort history, quite another to invent it. Kathy Erickson (Forum, March 11) claims that the federal government threatened The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its tax-exempt status in 1978 because of the church's position regarding blacks and the priesthood.

We state categorically that the federal government made no such threat in 1978 or at any other time. The decision to extend the blessings of the priesthood to all worthy males had nothing to do with federal tax policy or any other secular law. In the absence of proof, we conclude that Ms. Erickson is seriously mistaken.

BRUCE L. OLSEN Public Affairs Department The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [10]

Learn more about priesthood: racial ban: removal

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "white."
  2. Jan Shipps, "The Mormons: Looking Forward and Outward" Christian Century (Aug. 16-23, 1978), 761–766 off-site
  3. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics (2013)
  4. The Daily Diary of President Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter Library & Museum off-site
  5. "According to the President Carter Library," posted by "CLee the Anti-Mormon," 8 February 2006.
  6. "Church Honors President Carter’s Support of the Family," Ensign (January 1979)
  7. "Church Give Genealogy to President Jimmy Carter," Ensign (August 1977).
  8. Lance Gurwell, "Critics Still Question `Revelation` On Blacks," Chicago Tribune, June 02, 1988.
  9. Kathy Erickson, letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, 11 March 11, 2001.
  10. Bruce L. Olsen, cited in Salt Lake Tribune on 5 April 2001.

Response to claim: "The 1978 'revelation' was just prior to the temple opening in Sao Paulo Brazil"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The 1978 "revelation" was just prior to the temple opening in Sao Paulo Brazil. They had built an area office, distribution center and temple. The population has intermarried to an extent that it could not be determined if the people have any black lineage. The Church had publicly stated that people could not enter the temple if they "had even a drop of negro blood." Who was going to use the temple in Brazil? This was creating a public image nightmare in Brazil.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The Church notes that the dedication of the members to the construction of the temple had an impact: "Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed. Their sacrifices, as well as the conversions of thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians in the 1960s and early 1970s, moved Church leaders."
  1. REDIRECTSocial pressure and the priesthood ban#''Gospel Topics'': "Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter"

Was the priesthood ban lifted as the result of social or government pressure?

Social pressure was actually on the decline after the Civil Rights movement and coordinated protests at BYU athletic events ceased in 1971

Jan Shipps, a Methodist scholar and celebrated scholar of Mormon history and culture, considers it factual that "this revelation came in the context of worldwide evangelism rather than domestic politics or American social and cultural circumstances." She wrote:

A revelation in Mormondom rarely comes as a bolt from the blue; the process involves asking questions and getting answers. The occasion of questioning has to be considered, and it must be recalled that while questions about priesthood and the black man may have been asked, an answer was not forthcoming in the ‘60s when the church was under pressure about the matter from without, nor in the early ‘70s when liberal Latter-day Saints agitated the issue from within. The inspiration which led President Kimball and his counselors to spend many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple pleading long and earnestly for divine guidance did not stem from a messy situation with blacks picketing the church’s annual conference in Salt Lake City, but was "the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth." [1]

Gospel Topics: "Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics (2013):

Brazil in particular presented many challenges. Unlike the United States and South Africa where legal and de facto racism led to deeply segregated societies, Brazil prided itself on its open, integrated, and mixed racial heritage. In 1975, the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil. As the temple construction proceeded, Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed. Their sacrifices, as well as the conversions of thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians in the 1960s and early 1970s, moved Church leaders.[2]—(Click here to continue)

Did President Jimmy Carter threaten the Church's tax-exempt status because of their policy on blacks and the priesthood?

President Carter had a brief meeting with President Kimball, Representative Gunn McKay, and Representative Jim Santini on 11 March 1977 at the White House

On March 11, 1977 at 12:03 pm President Carter met with Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Representative Gunn McKay (D-Utah), and Representative Jim Santini (D-Nevada) for approximately 20 minutes in the White House.[3] This meeting, noted in President Carter's White House diary, is popularly rumored among ex-Mormons to be the meeting in which Carter threatened the Church with a rescinding of the Church's tax-exempt status over the issue of the priesthood ban.

An image of a page from President Jimmy Carter's White House diary for the day of 11 March 1977 showing a meeting with President Spencer W. Kimball. The Daily Diary of President Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter Library & Museum off-site

President Carter visited Salt Lake City on November 27 1978 for program in the Salt Lake Tabernacle

One ex-Mormon on the Recovery from Mormonism message board claimed to have located an "the actual photograph" of the 11 March 1977 meeting on LDS.org! [4] That photograph, however, is actually of a meeting in the Tabernacle on November 27, 1978.

President Kimball presents U.S. President Jimmy Carter with statue, Salt Lake Tabernacle, November 27, 1978. Photo located on https://www.lds.org/churchhistory/presidents/controllers/potcController.jsp?leader=12&topic=multimedia#

This meeting was documented in the January 1979 Ensign:

Two presidents saluted the family as one of life’s greatest institutions at a special November 27 program in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, culminating National Family Week in the United States.

Before a capacity crowd, with national and international television cameras whirring, President Spencer W. Kimball urged his listeners to recognize the family as "our chief source of physical, emotional, and moral strength." He presented United States President Jimmy Carter with a bronze statuette depicting the family circle. The miniature of a father, mother, and child is based on the original work by Utah sculptor Dennis Smith, Circle of Love, one of the pieces in the Relief Society monument to women in Nauvoo. [5]

President Kimball wrote a letter to President Carter in May 1977 to present a copy of Carter's genealogy

President Kimball wrote a letter to President Carter in May 1977, only two months after the March 11 meeting:

W. Don Ladd, Regional Representative of the Twelve, and Thomas E. Daniels of the Genealogical Department of the Church presented a family tree and a leather-bound volume of genealogical information on the Carter family to the President on 31 May.

The book included a letter to President Carter from President Spencer W. Kimball, in which he spoke of the Latter-day Saints’ "deep reverence and gratitude for our ancestors, which in turn gives us greater sense of responsibility to our posterity."

President Carter found the Church’s research "very exciting to me," and he said, "I look forward to studying the chart. This is an area of knowledge I’ve never had." The two-inch thick volume included several 8-by-10-inch pedigree charts and family group sheets, along with a research summary of each line researched and what was still missing from those lines. This is the first time the Church has ever given such a gift to a president of the United States. [6]

The allegation that the LDS church's tax-free status was threatened in 1978 seems to have originated prior to 1988, and resurfaced in 2001

On June 2, 1988, the Chicago Tribune quoted "critics" of the Church as speculating that Kimball's meeting with Carter involved the threat of the Church losing its tax exemption. The Tribune quotes Ogden Kraut, whom they stated was an "an excommunicated Mormon fundamentalist writer-photographer":

Despite church claims that the change came from revelation, critics say the move was pure business, that the Mormons wanted to expand further into black Third World countries and would not be able to do so as long as blacks were discriminated against, and that the Mormon church, the fastest growing mainstream church in the U.S., stood to lose its tax-exempt status for discriminating against blacks.

``We were told by a secretary in the church that Spencer Kimball spent 36 minutes talking to President (Jimmy) Carter, and shortly thereafter, the so-called `revelation` came down,`` said Ogden Kraut, an excommunicated Mormon fundamentalist writer-photographer.

Fundamentalist Mormons take the Bible and the Book of Mormon literally, and insist that God doesn`t make revelations to earthlings, Kraut said.

``My belief is that it was the expedient thing to do. The church didn`t want to lose its exemption,`` Kraut said. [7]

The claim resurfaced in 2001 when a claim that the federal government had threatened to revoke the Church's tax-exempt status back in 1978 was made by a woman named Kathy Erickson in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune on March 11, 2001. Erickson stated,

Gainful Revelation Date: March 11, 2001

What’s done is done. There no longer is any prejudice against blacks in the Mormon church, the power of money took care of that. Back in 1978 the federal government informed the LDS Church that unless it allowed blacks full membership (including the priesthood) they would have to cease calling themselves a non-profit organization and start paying income taxes. On $16.5 million a day in tithing alone that’s a lot of tax monies that could be better used in building up the Kingdom of God.

The church immediately saw the error of its ways and the brethren appealed to God for a revelation; it came quickly. God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, and today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has nothing but love for all races of people on Earth."[8]

A representative of the Church Public Affairs department responded:

Distorted History Thursday, April 5, 2001

It's one thing to distort history, quite another to invent it. Kathy Erickson (Forum, March 11) claims that the federal government threatened The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its tax-exempt status in 1978 because of the church's position regarding blacks and the priesthood.

We state categorically that the federal government made no such threat in 1978 or at any other time. The decision to extend the blessings of the priesthood to all worthy males had nothing to do with federal tax policy or any other secular law. In the absence of proof, we conclude that Ms. Erickson is seriously mistaken.

BRUCE L. OLSEN Public Affairs Department The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [9]

Learn more about priesthood: racial ban: removal

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Jan Shipps, "The Mormons: Looking Forward and Outward" Christian Century (Aug. 16-23, 1978), 761–766 off-site
  2. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics (2013)
  3. The Daily Diary of President Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter Library & Museum off-site
  4. "According to the President Carter Library," posted by "CLee the Anti-Mormon," 8 February 2006.
  5. "Church Honors President Carter’s Support of the Family," Ensign (January 1979)
  6. "Church Give Genealogy to President Jimmy Carter," Ensign (August 1977).
  7. Lance Gurwell, "Critics Still Question `Revelation` On Blacks," Chicago Tribune, June 02, 1988.
  8. Kathy Erickson, letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, 11 March 11, 2001.
  9. Bruce L. Olsen, cited in Salt Lake Tribune on 5 April 2001.

Response to claim: "some of these people may be taking liberties with the phrase 'voice of God'"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Bruce McConkie, reports in “The New Revelation on the Priesthood” in Priesthood (Deseret Book, 1981) that “From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet . . . And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord. President Kimball’s prayer was answered and our prayers were answered. He heard the voice and we heard the same voice” (128). He reaffirms, “And when President Kimball finished his prayer, the Lord gave a revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost” (133). However, some of these people may be taking liberties with the phrase "voice of God" as others like Gordon B. Hinckley never claimed to have heard an actual voice. It was more of a feeling that they were doing something right by reversing the ban.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is a narrow-minded claim—the critics are taking the position that the "voice of God" has to be an actual, audible voice. This is similar to MormonThink's legendary argument that Moroni couldn't have appeared to Joseph Smith in his room because he would have hit his head on the ceiling: it is an interpretation of spiritual things in the most fundamental, literal manner. In this case, the critics take the position that the "voice of the Lord" must be an audible voice, or it doesn't count as an actual communication from God. Bruce R. McConkie clearly states in the quote that the critics use that the revelation was received through the power of the Holy Ghost.


Response to claim: "Although we don't normally quote from sources who are unwilling to have their name published"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Although we don't normally quote from sources who are unwilling to have their name published, we decided to add this account from someone we know who worked in the administrative staff at the MTC during the time of the announcement:

We were told, by visiting General Authorities and others from the Church Office Building, that it was not a revelation, but a "negative revelation." That is, the First Presidency and the Twelve decided to tell the Lord that they were going to change the policy regarding blacks and the LDS priesthood "unless He gave them a sign to the contrary." In the absence of any sign, they changed the policy. No one officially coming over from SLC to the MTC at the time denied this story. It was later that I heard the word "revelation" actually used in conjunction with it. But Elder Le Grand Richard's statements in his interview with Chris Vlachos and Wesley P. Walters supports this version of the events.

Perhaps many "revelations" within the church have been "received" this way?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Actually, MormonThink has been quite willing to quote sources who are "unwilling to have their name published," including anonymous message board posters. Changing this claim from it's original "unverified source" to "sources who are unwilling to have their name published" is simply another way of saying the same thing: the source is unable to be validated. Youi cannot find it in any published source, and it is little more than an unsubstantiated rumor that the critics wish to turn into "data" on their website.

FairMormon never uses unverified anecdotal information, especially if the source is "unwilling to have their name published," to influence the reader. If the critics cannot verify the source, or cite it in some sort of publication, then the only reason for the them to quote this at all is to negatively influence the reader. Source's who are "unwilling to have their name published" can literally claim anything that they want to without consequence, and it is irresponsible to quote such a source.


Response to claim: "It seems likely from President Spencer W. Kimball's statement printed in the church's own newspaper that he did not receive any word from God concerning the matter"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

It seems likely from President Spencer W. Kimball's statement printed in the church's own newspaper that he did not receive any word from God concerning the matter (emphasis added):

I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, 'Now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted. "We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it." (Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, page 4)

It would appear then, that when President Kimball asked the Lord if He had any objections to his changing the doctrine, he received no answer from heaven. Since God did not seem to contest the idea, Kimball felt he had the "assurance" that it must be the Lord's will. This, of course, seems like a very unusual way to obtain a "revelation."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

MormonThink just quoted a source who was "unwilling to have their name published" that concluded that a "negative revelation" is the "absence of any sign." Yet, right after quoting President Kimball as stating, "But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it," MormonThink concludes "that when President Kimball asked the Lord if He had any objections to his changing the doctrine, he received no answer from heaven." This contradicts their own definition of a "negative revelation."
  • Again, when President Kimball said "this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it," how is this interpreted as "God did not seem to contest the idea?" According to MormonThink's own definition, if God simply did not "contest the idea," President Kimball would have received an "absence of any sign."


Response to claim: "Alexander Morrison ....'How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations'"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Church leaders act as if racism did not exist in the Church....From an Ensign article of September 2000 by General Authority Alexander Morrison ...."How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Morrison is not acting as if racism did not exist in the Church: he is stating that the Church has stood strongly against racism. This does not mean that individuals in the Church did not have racist views. Here is more of the quote from Alexander Morrison, "No More Strangers," Ensign, September 2000

The cause of much of the strife and conflict in the world, racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil’s hands. In common with other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regret the actions and statements of individuals who have been insensitive to the pain suffered by the victims of racism and ask God’s forgiveness for those guilty of this grievous sin. The sin of racism will be eliminated only when every human being treats all others with the dignity and respect each deserves as a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.

How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations. President Spencer W. Kimball stated the Church’s position well: “We do wish that there would be no racial prejudice. … Racial prejudice is of the devil. … There is no place for it in the gospel of Jesus Christ” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 236–37). The Prophet Joseph Smith, who experienced more than his share of intolerance and prejudice, understood the importance of caring for, respecting, and helping others, even those we don’t agree with. Speaking of the need to provide temporal assistance to others, the Prophet explained that a member of the Church “is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them” (Times and Seasons, 15 Mar. 1842, 732).


Response to claim: "Isn't what GBH saying is wrong exactly what the Church did?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Gordon B. Hinckley: Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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? Critic's point: Isn't what GBH saying is wrong exactly what the Church did? The Church assumed blacks were not eligible for the priesthood regardless of how righteous they were and they did this for 150 years.

The Need for Greater Kindness

April 2006 Priesthood Session

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

President Hinckley is not "acting as if racism did not exist in the Church"—He is speaking as if is does exist in the Church and that it needs to be corrected! That's what the "I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us" phrase is all about.

We assume that MormonThink does not disagree with President Hinckley's words. What are they looking for then? Some sort of discussion in General Conference about how racist Brigham Young's or Mark E. Petersen's remarks were?

  1. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

Question: If a doctrine is repudiated, does that mean that it was false when it was being taught?

Some ideas that were once taught are now considered false

Several teachings that were once considered doctrinal in the 19th-century Church have been repudiated by the modern Church. Among these are polygamy, the "Adam-God theory," the priesthood ban on members of African descent, and "blood atonement."

In the case of the "Adam-God theory," there was disagreement within the Church leadership regarding whether or not the teaching was true. The teaching was specifically repudiated by the Church.

Some ideas that were taught are considered to be true, but no longer authorized

On the other hand, the practice of polygamy was institutionalized within the Church and was only stopped when it became necessary in order for the Church to progress. Although the Church repudiates the practice of polygamy today, it does not repudiate the practice of polygamy among early Church members in the 19th-century. In other words, it does not consider the doctrine of polygamy to be false for the time - it would only consider it to be "false," in a sense, for the present day among living members of the Church.


Response to claim: "Many religions in the 1800s believed that the curse put upon Cain in Genesis was black skin"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Many religions in the 1800s believed that the curse put upon Cain in Genesis was black skin. It wasn't just the Mormons. The Catholics did not believe this though.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Correct. The notion originated in Protestant churches.
  1. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"
  2. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#''Gospel Topics'': "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"
  3. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?



December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

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 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. 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. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. ... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. ... In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Main article:Pre-1978 Priesthood ban

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

See also:Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006): 58.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.



December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

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 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. 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. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. ... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. ... In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Main article:Pre-1978 Priesthood ban

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

See also:Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006): 58.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.



December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

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 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. 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. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. ... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. ... In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Main article:Pre-1978 Priesthood ban

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

See also:Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006): 58.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

Response to claim: "other non-LDS churches did not teach that blacks were less valiant before they came to earth - that was a unique LDS belief"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

However, the other non-LDS churches did not teach that blacks were less valiant before they came to earth - that was a unique LDS belief.
....

By listening to the Church's official spokesmen for 150 years it seems clear that the reason for the ban had to do with blacks being cursed by God because they were less valiant in the pre-existence and were therefore born under the curse of Cain, who was the first Negro. To say otherwise, and go against scores of teachings and sermons and even First Presidency messages by the highest leaders of the Church, would put into serious question whether these men are really inspired men that receive revelation from God.
....

One apologist (a personal good friend of mine) told me in confidence that he personally thought that blacks were 'fence-sitters' in the pre-existence and were indeed cursed from Cain and that the prophets were correct about the doctrine and the reasons for it. They don't talk about it for the obvious public image problems that it would cause for the church in modern times. Perhaps that's true - we'll never really know. But this is further evidence that the church needs to make a more official statement on the reasons for the ban.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

True. That's because the notion of a "pre-existence" is a unique LDS belief.


Question: Did the Church refute the "neutral in the pre-existence" teaching only to preserve their public image?

This claim is utter nonsense and simply represents the opinion of yet another one of MormonThink's numerous "anonymous sources"

The critical website MormonThink quotes one of its many anonymous sources:

One apologist (a personal good friend of mine) told me in confidence that he personally thought that blacks were 'fence-sitters' in the pre-existence and were indeed cursed from Cain and that the prophets were correct about the doctrine and the reasons for it. They don't talk about it for the obvious public image problems that it would cause for the church in modern times. Perhaps that's true - we'll never really know. But this is further evidence that the church needs to make a more official statement on the reasons for the ban.

The critics are simply trying to assert, based upon anonymous speculation, that Church members still believe this secretly. It does not matter whether they are quoting an "apologist" or a "critic." Unsupported speculation is simply rumor. However, there does exist a very clear a statement that it has been rejected by the Church.

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form. ("Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org off-site)

The only people demanding a statement of reasons for a ban which was lifted over 30 years ago are ex-Mormons and critics.

What some unnamed "apologist" is alleged to have said is not "further evidence" of anything. ("a personal good friend of mine" is not a reference). It is evidence of precisely nothing. The only thing that can be concluded is that some Church members used to believe in the "neutral in the pre-existence" idea as an explanation for the ban. The modern Church does not accept or believe that this explanation is valid.

None of the apologists that we know believe this.





December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

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 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. 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. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. ... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. ... In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Main article:Pre-1978 Priesthood ban

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

See also:Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006): 58.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.



December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

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 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. 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. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. ... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. ... In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Main article:Pre-1978 Priesthood ban

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

See also:Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006): 58.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.



December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

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 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. 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. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. ... This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin. ... In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Main article:Pre-1978 Priesthood ban

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

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 and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

See also:Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006): 58.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.
  1. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"

Response to claim: "If you accept scientific reasoning then all of Mormonism's teachings about race and skin are complete nonsense"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

If you accept scientific reasoning then all of Mormonism's teachings about race and skin are complete nonsense.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

If you accept scientific reasoning then all teachings from any source which lead to racism are complete nonsense.


Response to claim: "Some members refer to this as the Bigfoot reference"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

There is a discussion of Cain, including a passage from some early LDS member in Spencer W. Kimball's book The Miracle of Forgiveness. Some members refer to this as the Bigfoot reference.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is basically a Mormon "urban legend." There is no official doctrine that states that Cain is Bigfoot.



Mormon urban legends or folklore


Jump to details:



What are "faith promoting rumors"?

Frequently Latter-day Saints receive email messages with faith-promoting stories that are difficult or impossible to verify

Frequently Latter-day Saints receive email messages with faith-promoting stories that are difficult or impossible to verify. This article includes examples of these "urban legends," or other bits of LDS historical folklore that are difficult or impossible to verify.

Never take faith-promoting stories circulated in chain email messages at face value. Check the sources carefully

“I would earnestly urge that no such idle gossip be spread abroad without making certain as to whether or not it is true....As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting these sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, some alleged to have been given to Church leaders, past or present, supposedly from some person's private diary, without first verifying the report with proper Church authorities.” - Harold B. Lee[1]

As early Church historian and member of the Seventy B.H. Roberts noted:

I find my own heart strengthened in the truth by getting rid of the untruth, the spectacular, the bizarre, as soon as I learn that it is based upon worthless testimony.[2]

Does Cain still roam the earth, and does this account for stories about "Bigfoot"?

The idea that Cain lived on and roams the earth today is folklore based on a claim by David W. Patten

A story is sometimes circulated that Cain—son of Adam and Eve and the first murderer—still walks the earth today. The notion that Cain somehow lived on, survived the Flood, and roams the earth today, is familiar to modern members mostly based on a single claim of David W. Patten supposedly meeting an unusual person assumed to be Cain:

As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. ... His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight.[3]

This account was published in a biography of Patten written by Lycurgus Wilson in 1900. Wilson had a letter from Abraham Smoot giving his recollection of what Patten said. In historical parlance this is what is called a late, third-hand account—the sort of thing most historians would dismiss. This kind of testimony is simply unreliable, tainted by the passage of time and the fog of memory.

In addition to the historical unreliability of the statement, it also conflicts with the scriptural record in a few respects. First, Genesis records that during the flood, "all flesh died that moved upon the earth, ... every man. ... Every living substance was destroyed ... , both man, and cattle. ... And Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark" (Gen. 7:21--23). No explanation is offered for how Cain would have survived the flood, or why he should be an exception to the widespread destruction.

Also, the described state of perpetual deathlessness sounds like being "translated," such as were Enoch's followers, Moses, Elijah, Alma the younger, the three Nephites, and John the apostle. For this notion of Cain being translated to be true, it would be the only example of a wicked person receiving this unparalleled blessing, when in every other instance, it is reserved for only the most righteous.

Note also that in Wilson's account above, Patten never identifies the mysterious figure as Cain. So even if we were to grant the account was accurate, it doesn't inform us in any way about Cain. The idea that Cain still walks the earth is simply folklore.

Scripture implies that Cain eventually died.

The Bible implies that Cain eventually died.

Nowhere in scripture, ancient or modern, is it declared that Cain would or did live beyond his mortal years. While no specific mention is made of his death, we do read of Lamech, Cain’s great-great-great-grandson, who made the same covenant with Satan that Cain did. This covenant is described as being had “from [or since] the days of Cain,” which seems to indicate that Cain was dead by this time. (See Moses 5꞉51.)

In any case, the scripture is ambiguous. If an apocryphal source can be trusted at all, the Book of Jasher does happen to give an account of the death of Cain:

And Lamech was old and advanced in years, and his eyes were dim that he could not see, and Tubal Cain, his son, was leading him and it was one day that Lamech went into the field and Tubal Cain his son was with him, and whilst they were walking in the field, Cain the son of Adam advanced towards them; for Lamech was very old and could not see much, and Tubal Cain his son was very young. And Tubal Cain told his father to draw his bow, and with the arrows he smote Cain, who was yet far off, and he slew him, for he appeared to them to be an animal. And the arrows entered Cain's body although he was distant from them, and he fell to the ground and died. And the Lord requited Cain's evil according to his wickedness, which he had done to his brother Abel, according to the word of the Lord which he had spoken. And it came to pass when Cain had died, that Lamech and Tubal went to see the animal which they had slain, and they saw, and behold Cain their grandfather was fallen dead upon the earth. (Jasher 2:26-30)

It is an odd coincidence that in the folklore accounts, Cain appears as some sort of hideous creature, even if he is just a spirit, and in this apocryphal account, his descendants mistook him for an animal. But this is nothing but coincidence. Whatever the case, Cain is definitely dead.

The folklore was perpetuated by being quoted in an apostle's book

The story probably would have been forgotten if then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball hadn’t included it on pages 127–28 of The Miracle of Forgiveness. Elder Kimball’s book has become a staple of Mormon reading, the book that many bishops give to members struggling with sin and many mission presidents assign their missionaries to read.

The passage where Kimball quotes Wilson is really unnecessary to the chapter itself, which is about unforgivable sins, including murder. He cites several examples of murderers in the scriptures, beginning with Cain. He then throws in, almost as a passing idea, “an interesting story” about Cain.

Matthew Bowman wrote that Wesley Smith, the brother of President Joseph Fielding Smith, was reportedly also almost attacked by a hideous being. He rebuked the entity with his priesthood, similar to the Patten story. He then related the story to President Smith, who naturally identified this character as Cain, basing that identification on the David Patten story. Even if we give Wesley Smith the benefit of the doubt, and grant that some evil spirit made an appearance, using critical thinking we can surmise that there is no justification for even making that identification of Cain. Any evil spirit theoretically could appear as a hideous being. Other folklorish stories are similar in their details.

The conflation of the myths of the wandering Cain and Bigfoot started around 1980 with some Bigfoot sightings in South Weber, Utah

It appears, according to Bowman, that the conflation of the myths of the wandering Cain and Bigfoot started around 1980 with some Bigfoot sightings in South Weber, Utah, and by 1990, those residents were associating their Bigfoot sightings with Cain. (Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2007, "A Mormon Bigfoot: David Patten's Cain and the Conception of Evil in LDS Folklore", pp. 62-82). An author named Shane Lester has even gone so far as to write a fictional book based on the conflation of these stories called the Clan of Cain: The Genesis of Bigfoot. However, oddly, Lester made the following claim, referring to the Patten story...

A recently uncovered document reveals a possible connection between the origins of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and Bigfoot. Searching through the archives of historical church documents the author, Shane Lester, uncovered an extraordinary story that becomes the foundation of a new theory about the origins of Bigfoot. "I uncovered an obscure historical document that sheds new light on the Bigfoot mystery. I used this encounter as the basis for a fictional story that links the mystical, legend of Bigfoot to the origins of Mormonism," says author, Shane Lester. [4]

He is he taking credit for "uncovering" some historical document from Church archives, as if the story is news. The story that he is referring to is unambiguously Elder Patten's story of the encounter with Cain in the first chapter of the book. Lester originally had offered a sneak-peek at that first chapter on his site. [5] But the story about Patten and Cain has been publicly available since Wilson's book on Patten came out in the year 1900 (a century before Lester wrote his book). Furthermore, the account is anything but obscure. It is well-known because of President Kimball's book. He claims the Cain-is-Bigfoot theory is "new" and that it sheds "new light" on Bigfoot. The theory has been around for several decades now, and it is very unlikely that Lester was the one to originate it. As we just saw in a preceding paragraph, Bowman documented where that came from. Thus, Lester is making claims that are utterly baseless. The Clan of Cain isn't Lester's only book that attempts to link Mormons with occult themes. He also wrote a book on Mormons and a theory linking them to extraterrestrials called The Conversion Conspiracy, which also features LDS folkloric themes. [6]

Conclusion

Why is it that some LDS people give these stories doctrinal credence? Does that not manifest a measure of gullibility? Is it only because President Kimball quoted it? They give Cain some kind of quasi-translated status based on the story alone, without question, as if he is some kind of hideous undead creature akin to a vampire or zombie that can appear and attack people physically. Why is no skepticism applied to the story, and to the new folklore that has arisen around it? Wasn't Cain a son of perdition, a liar from the beginning? Would someone believe claims from Mark Hoffman? Then why should they believe possible words from the mouth of Cain? As far as can be discerned from the folklore account, Elder Patten did not test Cain by shaking his hand to see if he was truly corporeal. What justification would there be to believe the words of a son of perdition? It doesn't make sense that any good-thinking person would give those claims credence.

Did Albert Einstein refer to Elder James E. Talmage as the smartest man he had ever met?

This is a myth: There is no evidence that Talmage and Einstein ever met

Some claim that Elder James E. Talmage (a geologist and author of Jesus the Christ) knew Albert Einstein, who called him the smartest man he had ever met.

There is no evidence that Talmage and Einstein ever met, much less that Einstein was aware of Talmage's work in geology (which was unrelated to Einstein's field of advanced theoretical physics).

Did Rev. Frank Graham praise LDS relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?

This is a myth: Graham praised praised Christians and followers of Jesus Christ for their response to the hurricane

The following email began circulating in late September 2005, following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina:

I was watching Good Morning America this morning and they spoke with Rev. Frank Graham (son of Billy Graham), who is currently in Houston. He spoke of the desperation and devastation that is the "new" way of life in and around New Orleans, but he also had a different message for the country.

He told the media that there are many churches in the Houston area, indeed, all around America that have reached out to help the victims, but he said that the members of The LDS church are truly amazing.

He stated (that)..."those people are truly a charity driven people. In the scriptures, charity is defined as the pure love of Christ." He went on to remark how the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have adopted individuals and families in the Astrodome and are helping them to find missing members of their families. They are keeping touch with their designated person or family on a daily basis, making sure the children are enrolled in and can get to school, taking them to Wal-mart and other retailers to purchase clothing and other necessities, and are taking people to job fairs and interviews to assist them in gaining employment. He stated that he has never seen such a love for complete strangers. This has even brought inactive members, according to Graham, "...out of their homes and back to the church because they want to help and they know that the church will be there, organizing and moving to assist those who have nothing, to remember that they truly are something."

He ended with a personal opinion that anyone in the Houston area who is an evacuee from New Orleans, who says they haven't been "taken care of" or "seen after", has only themselves to blame for refusing the assistance of the amazing LDS population who are volunteering without so much as asking for anything in return for their efforts."

A Lexis-Nexis check of the Reverend Graham's comments on Good Morning America shows that he made no such comments

Additionally, FairMormon contacted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and received the following email from Jeremy Blume, their media spokesperson, on 28 September 2005:

I've received this same email from several people. There are many inaccuracies in it. Thank you for your desire to research the truth. We appreciate your offer to help let people know that it isn't accurate.

It is true that Franklin Graham was on Good Morning America and he praised Christians and followers of Jesus Christ for their response to the hurricane, but he never mentioned any denominations, specific churches, organizations, or groups. Whoever wrote this is adding a lot to his interview.

Thanks for checking with us. I hope this helps.

FairMormon received a second email on 3 October 2005 from Rosemary S. Moore, Administrative Services Correspondent:

Thank you for contacting us regarding Franklin Graham's appearance on "Good Morning America." We have received correspondence like yours from several people. There are many inaccurate rumors circulating about this particular interview, and we appreciate your desire to know the truth about it.

It is true that Franklin Graham was on "Good Morning America" on September 16, 2005 and that he praised Christians and followers of Jesus Christ for their response to the hurricane. However, he never mentioned any denominations, specific churches, organizations, or groups.

We appreciate your checking with us regarding the authenticity of these rumors.

Did Elder Russell M. Nelson talk of a friend who translated the Book of Mormon into Arabic?

Elder Nelson had a neighbor named Sami Hanna, who was an Arabic scholar and a member of the Church

At one time Elder Nelson had a neighbor named Sami Hanna, who was an Arabic scholar and a member of the Church. Based on his knowledge of Arabic and his experience translating the Book of Mormon into Arabic, Sami thought there were numerous things in the Book of Mormon text that were consistent with a Semitic original of that book. [7]

Elder Nelson has alluded to Sami a few times in talks, but he has never given a talk specifically on Sami

Elder Nelson has alluded to Sami a few times in talks, as he has to others of his extensive network of friends who can read Hebrew. But he has never given a talk specifically on Sami. The internet article that circulates under his name was not written by Elder Nelson. [8]

Sami left the Church some time ago and is now some sort of a fundamentalist Christian. He now repudiates his former comments on the Book of Mormon

According to Sami's son, Mark, Sami left the Church some time ago and is now some sort of a fundamentalist Christian. He now repudiates his former comments on the Book of Mormon. [9]

Such a repudiation is not, however, terribly significant. Sami's material on the Book of Mormon was never a part of mainstream LDS scholarship on the subject. It was linguistically naive in a number of important respects. [10]

There is an extensive literature dealing with Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. A good introductory article is John Tvedtnes, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Preliminary Survey," Brigham Young University Studies 11 no. 1 (Autumn 1970), 50–60.*

Did President Boyd K. Packer, in a talk given in the Forest Bend Ward in Salt Lake City on 12 October 2008, say that a catastrophic event was looming in the immediate future?

President Packer spoke that day, but any message that he wanted to give to the world would be given in General Conference, not in an individual ward

A common e-mail circulated by some members claims to be a transcript of remarks given by President Packer in the Forest Bend Ward in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 12 October 2008. Reportedly, Pres. Packer is quoted as saying that a catastrophic event was looming in the immediate future and that we must get used to making do with what we have or doing without. He is also quoted as saying the world was too dangerous for us to let our children play outside alone.

President Packer give did give a talk on the date cited. No approved transcript exists, and it is contrary to the counsel of the Church to circulate or rely on such unofficial accounts, which often distort or misunderstand (even if unintentionally) the intent of the speaker.

When prophets and apostles wish to communicate important information for the spiritual or temporal well-being of members, they will do so via official channels to the entire Church, not in small meetings from which we must rely on unverified accounts to receive their message.

A FairMormon member contacted Church Public Affairs, and received the following response (the words are the FAIR member's, not the Church's):

I was told that while President Packer did indeed speak at the meeting cited, no transcript was made and that the one circulating was done after the talk was given and should not be considered to be authoritative. The following statement was given to me on the matter:

The following First Presidency letter explains the Church’s position on these types of e-mails. The letter was issued on May 13, 2004 and to all Church units and LDS Church leaders. Its subject was:

Statements Attributed to Church Leaders From time to time statements are circulated among members which are inaccurately attributed to the leaders of the Church. Many such statements distort current Church teachings and are often based on rumors and innuendos. They are never transmitted officially, but by word of mouth, e-mail, or other informal means.

We encourage members of the Church to never teach or pass on such statements without verifying that they are from approved Church sources, such as official statements, communications, and publications. Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only. [emphasis added by FAIR]

True spiritual growth is based on studying the scriptures, the teachings of the Brethren, and Church publications.

President Packer's secretary indicated further that President Packer's message for the world is in last week's [i.e., October 2008] General Conference. If members of the Church want to know what message he would have us hear, we need to listen to that talk, and throw this account of his talk away. President Packer's office cautioned that the talk given on 12 October represented President Packer's personal views, and should not be considered to be doctrine or a statement of the Church's views.

Did Boyd K. Packer say that today's youth "generals" during the pre-mortal "war in heaven"?

Elder Packer said: "I did not make that statement. I do not believe that statement"

One persistent rumor has Elder Packer claiming that today's youth were "generals" during the pre-mortal "war in heaven."

In April 2001, President Packer released the following statement:

We continue to receive reports of the distribution of a quote attributed to me which begins, 'The youth of the Church today were generals in the war in heaven,' and ends with the statement that when they return to heaven 'all in attendance will bow in your presence.'

I did not make that statement. I do not believe that statement.

The statement, on occasion, has been attributed to others of the First Presidency and the Twelve. None of the Brethren made that statement.

  • "Pres. Packer refutes quote," LDS Church News, 28 April 2001. off-site
  • "Youth were Generals in the War in Heaven," shields-research.org. off-site

</blockquote>

Did the medical coordinator for the Church's Humanitarian Emergency Response warn of an impending flu pandemic?

This claim is false

A frequently-forwarded e-mail purporting to describe a conference given by Dr. Susan Puls, medical coordinator for the Church's Humanitarian Emergency Response has been circulating. The e-mail purports to describe an impending flu pandemic and the anticipated problems associated with it.

The CES released a bulletin debunking this rumor. Dr. Puls describes the e-mail as "totally misleading and false," which "was full of misquotes, half truths, and just plain falsehoods. It supported a fear based preparedness which is not a true and correct principle...."

The bulletin, which provides the e-mail text and Dr. Puls' response, can be downloaded from FAIR's wiki: PDF link

In the spirit world after this life, will those who lived in President Hinckley's time will be bowed to?

This claim is false, and has been repeatedly disavowed by the Church

Boyd K. Packer and other Church leaders are quoted in a persistent chain email as having said to a group of LDS youth:

You were in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world you will be enthralled with those who you are associated with. You will ask someone in which time period he lived in and you might hear, "I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea," or "I helped build the pyramids," or "I fought with Captain Moroni." And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask, "Which prophet time did you live in?" And when you say "Gordon B. Hinckley," a hush will fall over every hall, every corridor in heaven and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous. Are you still? Remember who you are!

This claim is false, and has been repeatedly disavowed by the Church. A letter of 25 February 2008 reads:

A statement has been circulated that asserts in part that the youth of the Church today “were generals in the war in heaven . . . and [someone will] ask you, ‘Which of the prophet’s time did you live in?’ and when you say ‘Gordon B. Hinckley’ a hush will fall, . . . and all in attendance will bow at your presence.”

This is a false statement. It is not Church doctrine. At various times, this statement has been attributed erroneously to President Thomas S. Monson, President Henry B. Eyring, President Boyd K. Packer, and others. None of these Brethren made this statement.

Stake presidents and bishops should see that it is not used in Church talks, classes, bulletins, or newsletters. Priesthood leaders should correct anyone who attempts to perpetuate its use by any means, in accordance with “Statements Attributed to Church Leaders,” Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1 (2006), 173. [Emphasis present in original]

- Office of the First Presidency, Notice, "Subject: False Statement," (25 February 2008). This statement was printed in Deseret News on 8 March 2008.



Did a Catholic priest write a book in 1739 that the true church of Jesus Christ would be restored?

This book has never been found and this claim is believed to be false

A persistent rumor claims that Lutus Gratus, a Catholic priest, wrote the following in 1739 in his book Hope of Zion, which was purportedly discovered in the library in Bayd, Switzerland:

The old, true Gospel and its truths thereat are lost. False doctrine prevail in all churches on the face of the earth today. All we can do is exhort the people to be just, fear God, shun evil, and pray. Prayer and purity may cause an angel to visit a deep distressed soul, but I will tell you—God will have spoken within a hundred years. He will restore the old Church again. I see a little band of people led by a prophet and persecuted, burnt out and murdered. But in a valley that lies on the shore of a great lake, they will build a city and make a beautiful land, have a temple of magnificent splendor and also possess the old priesthood with teachers, deacons, etc. From every nation shall the true believers be gathered by speedy messengers, and then shall the almighty God speak to the disobedient nation, with thunder, lightning and destructions such as man has never known."

This "prophecy" first appeared in LDS periodicals in both English and German in 1893, in a story by a returned missionary named Jacob Spori. One of the first to question the authenticity of the document was Rulon S. Wells of the First Council of Seventy, who unsuccessfully attempted to locate the book and its contents in Basel a few years after the story surfaced. Other leaders and missionaries also were unable to verify the statement.

Elder Wells wrote an article called "A Fraudulent Prophecy Exposed" which was published in the January, 1908 Improvement Era. A detailed historical analysis of the false prophecy was published in BYU Studies in 1985.

  • Paul B. Pixton, "'Play it Again, Sam': The Remarkable 'Prophecy' of Samuel Lutz, Alias Christophilus Gratianus, Reconsidered," Brigham Young University Studies 25 no. 3 (Summer 1985), 27–46.off-site

Did the co-founder of Microsoft write an editorial praising Mormons in a California newspaper?

The letter was written by someone having the same name as the co-founder of Microsoft

Paul Allen — co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers — wrote a letter praising Mormons that was published in a Santa Clarita, California newspaper.

(One example of this widely-circulated letter can be read in this Usenet post.)

A FairMormon volunteer contacted The Signal, Santa Clarita Valley's newspaper, and inquired about this. The general manager of the paper confirmed that a letter to the editor from a Paul Allen was published in the newspaper on 24 November 2000, and about a year after that someone started circulating it on the web without authorization or permission from The Signal. The version that has been circulating on the Internet appears to be a correct copy, other than the incorrect date listing of 25 April 2002 or 2003. The letter to the editor is not on The Signal's web site because they don't put letters online.

The letter-writer is not the Paul Allen of Microsoft and professional sports team fame. That Mr. Allen resides on Mercer Island, Washington, over one thousand miles north of Santa Clarita, California.

  • Tim Whyte (General Manager, The Signal), "Have Faith: Letter Was Really Published"], 26 May 2002.off-site
  • "Enough Is Enough," Snopes.com Urban Legends Reference Pages.off-site

Was Brigham Young's hearse displayed in front of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion?

There is no truth to the rumor. In fact, no hearse was used at Brigham Young's funeral

A rumor has been spread that the hearse displayed in front of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion was the hearse used in Brigham Young's funeral.

There is no truth to the rumor. In fact, no hearse was used at Brigham Young's funeral. [11]

Was Catholic support for a Rome Italy temple due to Mormon efforts to pass California Proposition 8?

This claim is false

An e-mail circulating has claimed that Catholic support for a Rome Italy temple is very high because of LDS efforts around California Prop 8.

The claim as circulated is false. Church counsel in Europe stated:

Please keep in mind that our efforts to obtain the necessary building permissions within the Rome City Administration have not come to full fruition and remain at a delicate stage. Consequently, we need to be cautious and judicious when we discuss what is happening there and should take care not to spread incorrect information.[12]

Did Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve warn of persecution to follow Mitt Romney's nomination as the Republican candidate for president?

The claim is false

An e-mail circulating has claimed that Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve warned of persecution to follow Mitt Romney's nomination as Republican candidate for President of the United States in 2012.

The claim is false. A bulletin from Church Education System stated:

The following statements are being attributed to Elder David A. Bednar about what he purportedly said would happen if Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination:

  • That persecution to the Church would increase and be more intense than any yet experienced in our lifetime.
  • That sacred elements of the Church would be disparaged.
  • That our testimonies would be tested.

These statements are distorted and inaccurate and should not be used, repeated, or passed on to others. Kindly inform those who use them or send them to you that they are spurious. [13]

Learn more about folklore and urban legends associated with the Church
Wiki links
Online
  • LDS Hoaxes, Myths, and "Faith Promoting Rumors" at SHIELDS.off-site
  • Kevin Barney, "A Footnote to 'The Strength of the Mormon Position'," bycommonconsent blog (16 January 2008).
  • James P. Harris, ""A Place For Every Truth:" The Einstein Rumor," Sunstone no. (Issue #149) (April 2008), 33. off-site
  • "Mormon Rumors—Talmadge [sic] and Einstein," blog post by profxm (17 June 2008) off-site
Video
  • "Cain and Bigfoot," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.
  • "CIA and the church," BH Roberts Foundation print-link. Video version: "Is the LDS Church in cahoots with the CIA?,"  (2 February 2024). video-link.
  • "Star Wars and Spencer W Kimball," BH Roberts Foundation print-link. Video version: "Is Yoda based on Spencer W. Kimball?,"  (1 December 2023). video-link.
Navigators
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Notes

  1. Harold B. Lee, "Admonitions for the Priesthood of God," Ensign (January 1973): 105.
  2. B.H. Roberts, original letter in Church Archives; see Deseret Evening News (26 June 1926); cited by Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1980), 363. GL direct link
  3. Lycurgus A. Wilson, Life of David W. Patten [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1900], p. 50., quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 127-128.
  4. http://web.archive.org/web/20080609233412/http://www.mormonstoday.com/011207/A2Bigfoot01.shtml
  5. http://web.archive.org/web/20040701233040/http://clanofcain.com/
  6. http://www.amazon.com/Conversion-Conspiracy-Shane-Lester/dp/1601453337
  7. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign, July 1993.off-site
  8. There are copies of the spurious transcript on various web sites which can be acquired using Google.
  9. A copy of Mark Hannah's email regarding his father is available here: off-site
  10. John A Tvedtnes, "Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon," FARMS Review of Books 2/1 (1990): 258–259.off-site The material relating to Hanna starts about halfway down.
  11. Snopes.com discussion of the Disneyland hearse. off-site
  12. To: All personnel from Seminary and Institute Administrators' Council, "Circulation of Inaccurate Information on Rome Italy Temple," (7 December 2008)). PDF link
  13. To: All personnel (U.S. only) from Seminary and Institute Administrators' Council, "Distorted Statements on Mitt Romney’s Nomination," (9 April 2012)). PDF link

Response to claim: "Some members question whether the ban was actual doctrine or just Church policy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Some members question whether the ban was actual doctrine or just Church policy. The First Presidency issued the following official statements signed by all three members. (emphasis added):

1947 the First Presidency (supreme council) of the Church issued an Official Statement: "From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." (Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17, 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7) In 1949, The First Presidency issued the following statement: "The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time." (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949) Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951, reads: "The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.....

"Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam's transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain's transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

You will note that the First Presidency in 1949 believed that the ban was instituted by revelation from God, yet there is no written evidence of such a revelation. Later First Presidencies believed that the ban was a policy.


Response to claim: "If the leaders of the church could make such a serious error, then how can we really ever put our 100% trust in what they say?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

We were all clearly taught this in Church for decades before the ban was lifted. If the leaders of the church could make such a serious error, then how can we really ever put our 100% trust in what they say? How is the LDS church more true than the hundreds of protestant churches that did not teach, up through 1978, that blacks are black because they were cursed from God for being less valiant before they came to earth?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The idea that we are supposed to "put our 100% trust" in what Church leaders say is incorrect, and is simply another way of saying that we should practice "blind obedience." We are supposed to listen to Church leaders' counsel and pray to receive confirmation of what we should do.

The comparison to other churches is odd, considering that the "Curse of Cain" theory was created by Protestants well before the restoration as a way to justify slavery. It was, in essence, a way for religious people to continue to feel good about themselves while supporting slavery. Latter-day Saints inherited the same attitudes about the "Curse of Cain," and added the additional "explanation" that it had to do with behavior in the pre-existence (a uniquely Latter-day Saint concept). How, then, does any of this relate to the amount of "truth" that one church has relative to another? It does not.


Millennial Star (1852): "none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood"

"Priesthood," Millennial Star 14/38 (13 November 1852):

Because of...the apparent imperfections of men on whom God confers authority, the question is sometimes asked,—to what extent is obedience to those who hold the priesthood required? This is a very important question, and one which should be understood by all Saints. In attempting to answer this question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do any thing they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God, who seeks for the redemption of his fellows, would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty (!) authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions.

When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong; or else because they have done wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with, lest it should be discovered by their superiors, who would require an atonement at their hands. [1]


Brigham Young (1862): "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him"

Brigham Young:

What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.

Brother Joseph W. Young remarked this morning that he wished the people to receive the word of the Lord through his servants, be dictated by them, and have no will of their own. I would express it in this wise: God has placed within us a will, and we should be satisfied to have it controlled by the will of the Almighty. Let the human will be indomitable for right....

Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another; for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven. Jesus Christ never wanted to be different from his father: they were and are one. If a people are led by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and they are cognizant of the fact through their faithfulness, there is no fear but they will be one in Christ Jesus, and see eye to eye.[2]


Brigham Young (1855): "I do not wish any Latter-day Saint...to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied"

Brigham Young:

Some may say, "Brethren, you who lead the Church, we have all confidence in you, we are not in the least afraid but what everything will go right under your superintendence; all the business matters will be transacted right; and if brother Brigham is satisfied with it, I am." I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, "If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are," this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

Every man and woman in this kingdom ought to be satisfied with what we do, but they never should be satisfied without asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, whether what we do is right.​[3]


Response to claim: "He should have stated whether or not the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine correctly or not"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Hinckley has worked for the Church almost all of his life. He has been a General Authority since 1958. He was in Quorum of the Twelve meetings when the priesthood ban was discussed, for at least three decades. He was an Apostle for some 17 years of the priesthood ban. If any Church official would be qualified to answer this question it would be GBH. To not give a complete, truthful answer to these questions is disappointing to say the least. He should have stated whether or not the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine correctly or not - that's what people really want to know.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Now the critics are saying what Church leaders should have done, rather than what they did.


Gospel Topics: "During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013):

During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.[4]



What is the "priesthood ban" that was lifted in 1978?

Members of the Church who were considered to be of African descent were restricted from holding the Church's lay priesthood prior to 1978

Members of the Church who were considered to be of African descent were restricted from holding the LDS Church's lay priesthood prior to 1978. The reason for the ban is not known. There is no contemporary, first-person account of the ban's implementation. There is no known written revelation instituting the ban. In 1949, the First Presidency, led by President George Albert Smith, indicated that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord."

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949

The First Presidency went on to state that "the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate." Because of this, understanding the reason for the implementation of the priesthood ban is difficult.

Several 19th and 20th century Church leaders (most notably Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie and Mark E. Petersen) expressed strong opinions on what they believed was the purpose of the priesthood ban. Some believed that Church leaders implemented the ban in order to respond to threats and dangers facing the Church by restricting activities among black Americans in the pre-Civil War era, and that these policies and procedures persisted. Upon the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, Elder McConkie stated,

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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.[5]

It is important to understand the history behind the priesthood ban to evaluate whether these criticisms have any merit and to contextualize the quotes with which LDS members are often confronted.

This is complex and sensitive issue, and definitive answers as to why God allowed the ban to happen await further revelation. There are some things we do not know, and we rely on faith that God will one day give us the answers to the questions of our mortal existence. The sub-articles listed below explore various aspects of the priesthood ban in detail.

Past Church leaders should be viewed as products of their times, no more racist than most of their American and Christian peers

Past church leaders should be viewed as products of their times, no more racist than most of their American and Christian peers (and often surprisingly enlightened, given the surrounding culture). A proper understanding of the process of revelation creates a more realistic expectations of the Latter-day Saint prophet, instead of assumptions of infallibility foisted on the Saints by their critics.

Previous statements and scriptural interpretations that are no longer in harmony with current revelation should be discarded. We learn "line upon line, precept upon precept," and when modern revelation has shed new light, old assumptions made in the dark can be done away with.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What do we know about the origin of the priesthood ban on Church members of African descent?

The Church has never provided an official reason for the ban

The origin of the priesthood ban is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Its origins are not clear, and this affected both how members and leaders have seen the ban, and the steps necessary to rescind it. The Church has never provided an official reason for the ban, although a number of Church leaders offered theories as to the reason for its existence. The Church currently provides the following background information regarding the initiation of the ban in its Gospel Topics essay "Race and the Priesthood":

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church. [6]

Given that none of these theories regarding the reason for the ban is accepted today, Church members have generally taken one of three perspectives:

  • Some members assume that the ban was based on revelation to Joseph Smith, and was continued by his successors until President Kimball. However, Joseph Smith did ordain several men of African descent to the priesthood.
  • Some believe that the ban did not originate with Joseph Smith, but was implemented by Brigham Young. The evidence supports the idea that Brigham Young implemented it, but there is no record of an actual revelation having been received regarding it.
  • Some believe that the ban began as a series of administrative policy decisions, rather than a revealed doctrine, and drew partly upon ideas regarding race common in mid-19th century America. The passage of time gave greater authority to this policy than intended.

The difficulty in deciding between these options arises because:

  • there is no contemporary account of a revelation underlying the ban; but
  • many early members nevertheless believed that there had been such a revelation; and
  • priesthood ordination of African blacks was a rare event, which became even more rare with time.

The history behind the practice in the modern Church of withholding the priesthood based on race is described well by Lester Bush in a 1984 book.[7] A good timeline can be found at FAIR's BlackLatterdaySaints site.

Many leaders have indicated that the Church does not know why the ban was in place

  • Gordon B. Hinckley in an interview:
Q: So in retrospect, was the Church wrong in that [not ordaining blacks]?
A [Pres. Hinckley]: No, I don't think it was wrong. It, things, various things happened in different periods. There's a reason for them.
Q: What was the reason for that?
A: I don't know what the reason was. But I know that we've rectified whatever may have appeared to be wrong at the time.[8]
  • Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, 'Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,' you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.
...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[9]