Mormon Religion, Revelation and Racism

© David K. Isom

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) has a racism¹ problem. The problem is that the church from its inception in the 1830s to 1978 proclaimed that god, through direct revelation to Mormon prophets, pronounced that the dark skin of “Negroes” or “persons of African descent” was the sign of a curse by god for sin or lack of “valiance.” In 2013, the church promulgated an essay, still an official statement of the church today, positing that previous anti-Black teachings of unidentified “Church leaders” were simply erroneous “theories” now repudiated by the church.

The church continues to skirt the real issues: How can the church continue to claim to be the exclusive channel of communication from god to humans if god’s purported revelations about race for over a century were not really divine revelation? What, exactly, were the statements, the “theories,” the church repudiated in 1978 and continues to repudiate? Does the church still claim that any of the racist statements of church prophets and apostles, including racist statements in the church’s canon, were actually divine revelations? If the church now disavows that these fundamental and important doctrines were revelations from god, how does one meaningfully distinguish supposed revelations from what, over time, have become theories the church now finds disturbing? How can the church credibly claim that any purported Mormon revelations were actually from god? In a word, how can current church President Russell Nelson teach that god’s Mormon prophets and apostles “always teach the truth”² while the church’s official race statement admits that Mormon prophets and apostles got race wrong in the name of god for most of the church’s history?

Throughout its nearly 200 years, the church has claimed to be the sole ecclesiastical channel for communication from god to humans. An all-powerful, loving, all-knowing god sometimes reveals things to his children on Earth, the church says. When god does so, the church claims, those revelations come exclusively through god’s agents, the prophets and apostles of the LDS church.³ As discussed below, those revelations — including revelations stated in the form of canonized scripture, official statements of the church’s first presidency, and speeches of Mormon prophets and apostles in general church conferences and publications — proclaimed until 1978 that persons of African descent were cursed by god for some kind of sin.

In June 1978, the church announced⁴ that after church prophets and apostles had “pleaded long and hard” through prayer, “by revelation [god] . . . confirmed” to church prophet and president Spencer Kimball a fundamental change: “the long-promised day has come” when Black men “may receive the holy priesthood” and Blacks of both genders may enjoy the blessings and rituals of Mormon temples that had “been withheld” before that date (the “1978 Revelation”).

The church’s withholding god’s blessings from Blacks had been a big deal. The old racism banned Black men⁵ from receiving the priesthood — which Mormons consider to be the exclusive power to act for god and to officiate in church ordinances. The ban had also prevented people considered sufficiently Black and African from receiving high temple ordinances, a necessary precondition to after-life felicity and exaltation.

Over the 35 years from 1978 to 2013, largely because of pressure created by increasing electronic access to the church’s history and teachings about race, the LDS church published the essay “Race and the Priesthood” (“2013 Race Essay”)⁶ in 2013. The 2013 Race Essay admits that “for much of its history … the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances.”⁷ The essay claims “no reliable evidence” exists that church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805–44) taught that Blacks were denied the priesthood and others of god’s blessings but concedes that until the 1978 Revelation Smith’s successors prohibited Blacks of African descent from receiving the priesthood and its eternal blessings.⁸

While the 1978 Revelation claimed it was god himself who had denied Blacks his priesthood and other blessings,⁹ the 2013 Race Essay suggests that before 1978 Mormon prophets and apostles espoused bigotry masquerading as divine revelation. The 2013 Race Essay asserts that some or all (not clear which) of the church’s many racist statements announced and espoused for a century and a half were just “disturbing” “theories” of “church leaders and members,” including “Brigham Young … and subsequent Church presidents….” Those racist statements are not “accepted today as the official doctrine of the church.”¹⁰

This article explains how the church continues to play fast and loose with its teachings on race, including which are god’s revelations and which are just “disturbing” “theories” of “church leaders.” The church’s race statements appear to be public relations strategies in a transparent attempt to mollify the church’s racist past, to become more mainstream and to revise an ugly history to make the church more acceptable to present-day members and proselytes. The church’s behavior does not reflect the true repentance and honest contrition that a frank recognition of the church’s racism would require. The statements also leave the Mormon believer in the awkward position of not knowing who is the racist, god or the unrepentant Mormon prophets and apostles.

1. The Church Now Blames Widespread Historic Racism in America for the Church’s Racism

The cornerstone of Mormonism was church founder Smith’s claim that god appeared to him and revealed that the religions of the day were abominations because they were guided by man-made traditions and not divine revelation. The Mormon church was founded in 1830 on this premise.¹¹ One hundred and eighty-three years later, the 2013 Race Essay ironically claims that most or all of the church’s decades-long racism came from the church’s adoption of man-made racist traditions or “theories,” not from god.

The 2013 Race Essay asserts that Mormon racism was the normal result of the racism in the culture in which Mormonism was raised. In that culture, Christianity and other religions nurtured and protected racism as Europeans began to colonize America.¹² Traditional American Christian denominations adduced two enigmatic biblical passages to justify their racism against Blacks: (1) god cursed Adam and Eve’s son Cain and put a “mark” upon Cain for killing his brother Abel,¹³ and (2) god cursed Noah’s grandson Canaan.¹⁴ The text of those passages does not support anti-Black racism. Traditional American Christian denominations merely interpreted these verses from Genesis as race-based because of prevailing anti-Black bigotry and the slavery of Blacks.

As to Cain, nothing in the biblical text says anything about a dark or black skin. The biblical text never links the “mark” god set upon Cain to skin color.¹⁵

Nor does the text mention a “mark” in relation to Canaan, but only a curse. The “curse” is unidentified. After the world-wide flood, according to the Bible, Noah celebrated the planting of a vineyard by getting plastered. Noah’s son Ham went into his dad’s tent and saw that Noah was naked and had passed out drunk. Ham informed his brothers Japheth and Shem of their dad’s condition. Japheth and Shem went into the tent backward so they wouldn’t see their drunk dad disrobed. Ham, however, failed to avert his eyes. When Noah awoke, he somehow divined Ham had seen him naked. Strangely, Noah cursed Canaan, Ham’s son, and not Ham, for Ham’s transgression. Canaan’s reputed descendants are the Canaanites.¹⁶ While biblical text never associates the “curse” of Canaan with skin color, the curse functioned to assure that Canaan’s descendants would be slaves (or servants, depending on the translation) to Japheth’s and Shem’s descendants.¹⁷

Of course, Bible-based racism toward Blacks did not originate in America. God’s curses of Cain and Canaan were cited as early as the third century to justify racism toward Africans in Europe throughout the Middle Ages,¹⁸ and in America from the earliest incursions of Europeans.¹⁹

But Bible-based racism flourished in slavery-addicted America. Various incarnations of American Methodism, for example, emerged and split in 1796, 1816 and 1844 over race and slavery. Some splintered away specifically to champion slavery.²⁰ In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant church in the country, was created precisely to preserve the southern group’s advocacy and practice of enslaving Blacks.²¹ Slavery and race contributed to significant splits in Presbyterian sects in 1837 and significant Presbyterian disputes in the 19th Century.²² In 1979, the year after god revealed that Mormons could hold the priesthood and enjoy all priesthood blessings regardless of race, the U.S. Catholic Bishops conceded that anti-Black “[r]acism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church.”²³ As Dr. Martin Luther King famously, and accurately, declared in 1962, “11:00 Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.”²⁴

The Mormon church, on the other hand, did not have to depend on mere bigotry-infused interpretations of Genesis for its racism. The church proclaims that god aided Smith in translating Egyptian papyri on which Abraham and Moses had inscribed the mind and will of god, filling the biblical gaps of anti-Black racism.

2. Joseph Smith Was the Founder of Mormonism and Mormon Racism

The 2013 Race Essay seeks to distance Smith from the church’s racism. This effort is misleading and unjustified. Mormon racism was and remains firmly grounded in Smith’s claim that god directly revealed to Smith that black skin was the sign of the curse god had inflicted upon Cain and Canaan as punishment for sin. Those racist revelations are still in the Mormon canon today, more than 40 years after the 1978 Revelation and seven years after the 2013 Race Essay.

Cain. Smith claimed that god revealed to him details about the curse of Cain that had originally been given to Moses in antiquity but that were somehow omitted from Genesis.²⁵ This revelation settles for Mormons the Cain-related race question debated by the other Abrahamic religions over the centuries, namely, whether the curse of Cain was a black skin. The revelation proclaims that “the seed of Cain were black.”²⁶ This revelation, in what Smith called the Book of Moses, became Mormon canon and is contained in one of the church’s four official scriptures — the Pearl of Great Price.²⁷ God added in the revelations now contained in Smith’s Book of Moses that the dark skin of Cain and his descendants was punishment for Cain’s loving Satan more than god,²⁸ for which Cain became “Perdition,” the father of lies.²⁹

Canaan. In the Book of Moses, god also revealed to Smith that god had cursed the descendants of Noah’s grandson and Ham’s son Canaan: “a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.”³⁰ In another part of the Pearl of Great Price known as the Book of Abraham, Smith recorded god’s revelation that “all Egyptians” were descended from Noah, Ham and Canaan, and that they were “cursed … as pertaining to the Priesthood,”³¹ meaning the descendants of Canaan were “of that lineage by which [they] could not have the right of Priesthood.”³² As with the revelations about Cain that became Mormon cannon in the Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Moses, these revelations canonized as the Book of Abraham remain in Mormon scripture as the revealed mind and will of god.

The 2013 Race Essay condemns the substance of each Mormon scripture identified above without acknowledging their continuing existence or prominence as Mormon canon. The 2013 Race Essay condemns the “widespread ideas” of Black inferiority which were “promulgated in the United States since at least the 1730s” that “God’s ‘curse’ on Cain was the mark of a dark skin,”³³ without recognizing that the canonized Smith/Moses revelation does exactly that.³⁴ Without acknowledging that the Smith/Abraham revelation confirms “a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan,”³⁵ the 2013 Race Essay condemns historic American racists who insisted that “Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah’s grandson Canaan as a result of Ham’s indiscretion toward his father.”³⁶

The 2013 Race Essay comes close to conceding that god’s Cain- and Canaan-related revelations to Smith were nothing more than Smith’s own racist “theories.” But only close. If the Mormon church were honest and serious about attempting to expurgate its racism and expunge its racist history, it would forthrightly answer the fundamental question skirted by the 2013 Race Essay: Does the Mormon church still claim that god “cursed” some of his children with black skin, or does it renounce these canonized revelations?

3. Mormon Prophets and Apostles After Smith Continued to Declare Racist Revelations Against Blacks

The 2013 Race Essay claims that the unidentified church “leaders” who issued racist statements since 1830 were espousing erroneous, “disturbing” “theories.”³⁷ The decades-long declarations of Mormon leaders, however, come not from the pews or the alleys but from the highest dais of the church, and were invariably trumpeted as revelations from god himself.³⁸ The church’s refusal to resolve this inconsistency belies its attempt to put its racism behind it.

Examples of racist proclamations of Mormon prophets and apostles after Smith’s death include the following.

During his tenure as church president and prophet (1847–77), Smith’s successor Brigham Young repeatedly claimed that African Blacks were cursed of god and that dark skin was the sign of that curse. In 1852, for example, Young proclaimed that “any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot hold the Priesthood….”³⁹ He continued: “negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood….”⁴⁰ Indeed, “a man who has has [sic] the Affrican [sic] blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood.”⁴¹ If people “mingle our seed with the black race of Cain … on that very day … the priesthood is taken from this Church….”⁴²

The church president after Young, John Taylor, explained how the curse of Cain survived the flood and why god insisted that the curse must continue. Taylor proclaimed that “after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God….”⁴³ The 2013 Race Essay fails to clarify whether the church now identifies Taylor’s statement as only a “disturbing” “theory” of a former church “leader.” As with the other revelations of church prophets and apostles quoted here, this pronouncement was grounded on the above two racist Cain/Canaan revelations to Smith still found in the Mormon canon.

Other church presidents made similar pronouncements through 1978.⁴⁴ For example, President Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. (grand-nephew of founder Smith; apostle 1910–1970; President 1970–1972) wrote that because of his murder of Abel, Cain “became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood….”⁴⁵

In a 1949 “official statement” of the church’s First Presidency, President George Smith and his counselors J. Reuben Clark and David McKay proclaimed that the church’s refusal to ordain Blacks to the priesthood was “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….”⁴⁶

In addition to Mormon church presidents/prophets, the church sustains apostles as “prophets, seers and revelators.” Throughout the church’s history, apostles have also affirmed the prophets’ racist statements about Blacks. The most influential of these was Bruce McConkie in his 856-page encyclopedic Mormon Doctrine, in print from 1954 through 2010. McConkie, a son-in-law of church president and prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, was an entry-level general authority (a “seventy”) when he first published Mormon Doctrine. He was elevated to apostle in 1972 and remained such until his death in 1985.

McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine remained in active publication throughout his tenure as apostle and for 25 years after his death. The book saw 40 printings and sold hundreds of thousands of copies.⁴⁷ In it McConkie intoned that because of the curses of Cain and Canaan, they and their descendants (1)⁴⁸ suffered “racial degeneration, resulting in differences in appearance and spiritual aptitude…” and “were cursed with what we call negroid racial characteristics.”⁴⁹ McConkie declared that (2) “Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty…. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them….”⁵⁰

McConkie declared that god’s curse against Blacks (3) “rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence.”⁵¹ That is, Mormon Doctrine preached that all humans in their pre-mortal, spiritual state, were more or less “valiant” before coming to earth to receive bodies. God cast out the worst of the worst and denied them the opportunity to come to earth. The next level of bad, those who lacked pre-mortal “spiritual valiance,” (4) god cursed in mortality with black skin.⁵²

In a speech given two months after the 1978 Revelation, McConkie urged church members to “forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young … has said … that is contrary to the [1978 Revelation]…. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before….”⁵³

Poof!

Despite the 1978 Revelation and his August 1978 mea culpa, however, McConkie continued to assert racist statements in post-1978 printings of Mormon Doctrine.⁵⁴ To him, apparently, his prior (racist) views did “make a particle of difference” and did survive the 1978 Revelation. After 1978 McConkie continued to teach: (a) Cain “was cursed” with “a dark skin, and he became the ancestor of the black race”⁵⁵; and (b) “Cain, Ham and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.”⁵⁶ In short, after the 1978 Revelation McConkie continued to assert that Blacks of African descent were cursed with a black skin because of the sin of Cain and the “indiscretion” of Noah’s son Ham that caused Ham’s descendants to be cursed for thousands of years.

4. The Church’s Arguments About Its Racism and Its Racist History Are Wrong

The attitudes and doctrines of the Mormon church are emblems of the nuance and tenacity of racism in America and in many of America’s religions. The principal arguments of the Mormon church’s 2013 Race Essay are demonstrably wrong.

a. The “All Are Alike” Argument Is Disingenuous

For example, the 2013 Race Essay argues that a passage that has been in the Book of Mormon from the church’s founding in 1830 to the present shows the church’s lack of racism. That passage proclaims that “black and white … all are alike unto God.”⁵⁷ Even if this enlightened snippet were all the Book of Mormon had to say about race, however, that snippet existed in the Mormon canon throughout the church’s pre-1978 racism. Hence, this post-hoc argument reveals that the church did not attribute the anti-racist meaning to this passage that it now attributes.

The “all are alike” argument also suffers from the fact that other Book of Mormon passages are directly contrary to the egalitarian sentiment of this verse. God proclaims in the same section of the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, for example, that god had cursed people who once were “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome” with “a skin of blackness” to make them “loathsome” to white people. One purpose of the curse was to assure that dark-skinned people “might not be enticing” to “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome” people, and to avoid the inevitable result that the by intermarriage the progeny of light-skinned people would “be cursed even with the same cursing”⁵⁸ of the dark-skinned people who were “an idle people [and] full of mischief ….”⁵⁹

b. The Mormon Church Claims God Was the Racist

Both the 1978 Revelation and the 2013 Race Essay claim that god wanted Blacks to remain cursed. Mormon prophets and apostles in 1978 “pleaded long and earnestly” for their Black “brethren.” God finally, reluctantly, “heard our prayers….”⁶⁰ The church gives no explanation as to how an all-loving, all-knowing god could have deemed a dark skin a curse or how white Mormon prophets could have caused god to change his mind, making his Black children equal to whites in church status and blessings after the curses of thousands of years.

c. The Church’s Effort to Exonerate Smith Is Disingenuous.

After Smith, the pronouncements of Mormon prophets and apostles about Blacks of African descent and their historic lack of access to priesthood blessings are affirmations or extensions of the revelations to Smith discussed above. Those purported revelations include the curses of Cain and Ham/Canaan with black skin and inferior status. If the church chooses to come clean and actually repent of its racism, its leaders must clarify whether these foundational revelations are among the racist “theories” the church is attempting to throw in the trash heap of its racist history. The foundational question is simple: Does the Mormon church now claim/admit that god cursed persons of African descent with black skin? If so, the church should revise its 2013 Race Essay. If not, the church should de-canonize and renounce the so-called revelations to Smith in the Books of Moses and Abraham of the Pearl of Great Price.

d. No Definition of “Blacks of African Descent” Was Ever Possible

The 2013 Race Essay identifies the class of people god cursed as “blacks of African descent.” Both operative terms of this scope of the condemnation, “black” and “African,” are imprecise and unhelpful.

“Black” is an unusable test for determining the scope and correct application of a divine curse. A person of apparent African descent with dark skin, for example, can have blonde, blue-eyed children.⁶¹ The skin tone of some persons of Burmese, Southern Indian, Australian, Melanesian and New Guinean descent is as dark as that of the darkest Africans. Mormon prophet Harold Lee in 1972 recognized that skin color is not determinative. He said, “dark or black islanders, such as Fijians, Tongans, Samoans, or Maoris are all permitted full rights to the priesthood.”⁶² The priesthood prohibition applied only to “African Negroes,” Lee declared.⁶³ The quantum of melanin in a person’s skin may evoke more or less pride or bigotry, but is no measure of merit.

“African” is also problematic. We are all biologically “African.” The world’s population apparently originated in Africa hundreds of thousands of years before Iron Age mammals started writing what became the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. “African,” of course, is not a term from the Bible or from Mormon scripture. In the context of Christian and Mormon racism, “African” must mean a descendant of Cain and/or Canaan.⁶⁴ Yet, by the time of slavery in the United States and god’s purported revelations to Smith about the curses of Cain and Canaan, it was impossible to discern which Africans descended from Cain and/or Canaan. Why? The Book of Genesis was written thousands of years after the events it purports to record;⁶⁵ Canaan’s cursed descendants undoubtedly miscegenated with the uncursed; and no known written records exist for most of the time between those alleged events and the writings.

When I was a Mormon missionary in Uruguay (before the 1978 Revelation), my companion and I spoke with a woman who was eager to learn about the church and to become a member. After we presented our initial spiel, we set a time to return to her home. As soon as we were outside, my companion berated me for not having recognized that this prospect was a Negro. I admitted I hadn’t. My companion was more than exasperated. He pointed out that the woman’s skin was dark, that she had said she was raised in Brazil and that the shape of her nose was clearly “African.” This seemed insufficient reason not to teach her the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I acquiesced to my companion’s insistence that we must not return. But the church’s policy at the time was to avoid seeking Black converts. We never returned or even canceled our appointment.

e. Mormon Racism Is Based on Iron Age Morality

The historic racism of American Christianity is as morally repugnant as the grounds on which that racism is based. The pivotal justification for that racism is the myth that Blacks descend from a murderer and the son of a man who looked at his naked father.

Based on the revelations discussed above, Mormons once grounded their racist beliefs on the theory that god had punished each Black person with dark skin because his/her pre-mortal soul was not valiant in a war in the preexistence. The 2013 Race Essay now seems to scorn that doctrine as mere misguided “theory.” Mormons and other Christians — many Christians shudder to classify Mormons as Christian — are left with the proposition that god cursed billions of people for the sins of two millennia-distant ancestors, even though the Hebrew Bible seemed to limit penalties for generational sin to three or four generations.⁶⁶ Similarly, Mormonism’s Second Article of Faith posits that “men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.”⁶⁷ Yet, for 150 years, the church claimed that billions of humans had been punished for the transgressions of Cain and Canaan’s father.

f. Modern Technology Is Facilitating Scrutiny of Religious Racism.

Like all other religions as to which history and fact have any relevance, Mormonism is under fire more than ever because digital communication technologies have made history and facts readily accessible. Just a few years ago, most facts discussed here were so dispersed and difficult to discover that only a dedicated scholar, with hard work and serendipity, could uncover them. Indeed, as recently as 2013, LDS church prophets apparently believed that the misleading arguments of the 2013 Race Essay could fly. Now, the relevant facts are remarkably accessible to anyone with a few serious questions and access to a computer and wi-fi. We can only hope that sunshine disinfects.

g. Racism and Anti-Racism Are Urgent Issues

This essay was inspired in part by a blog post⁶⁸ of my friend, Salt Lake City attorney Rick Van Wagoner, who acknowledged that he is struggling to overcome the racist Mormon teachings of his formative years. I, too, must confess that when I believed Mormon teachings about race, I was necessarily a racist. But this confession is confined by the belief and commitment that with study, hard work, compassion, and the investment of urgent energy I can mitigate and eventually eliminate those formative, deep crevices in my soul. By dredging up horrible forgotten foundational ideas, we have the chance to address and fix them.

5. Conclusions and Questions

The 2013 Race Essay states that “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.” The 2013 Race Essay fails to identify which statements of its racist history were “theory” and which were revelation. The 2013 Race Essay dodges the real issues: Is there a god who “cursed” Cain and Canaan (and millions or billions of their descendants) with black skin as Smith claimed in purported revelations the Mormon church recognizes as Mormon scripture? Or are these canonized revelations (now) just repudiated, unfortunate “theories” invented by the racism of Mormon leaders? If the Mormon church now admits that core touted revelations were man-made, why should anyone continue to believe the church’s other purported revelations? If these revelations retain any Mormon legitimacy, how can the church take the position that its doctrines and practices are not racist? To summarize all of these issues in Mormon-speak: Does the church still claim the canonized Mormon scriptures to be revelations from god that say that god cursed descendants of Cain⁶⁹ and Canaan⁷⁰ with a black skin because of the sins of Cain and Canaan?

The Mormon church now has more than 300 proselyting missions worldwide, including some 35 in Africa. Before the next missionary approaches the next prospective convert, the church owes all of us, and them, answers to these questions about the Mormon church’s claims that god cursed Blacks.

***

David Isom is a lawyer doing complex civil litigation in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Additional Materials

Books

Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists (2017).

Brooks, Joanna, Mormonism and White Supremacy (2020).

DiAngelo, Robin, White Fragility (2018).

Du Bois, W.E.B, The Souls of Black Folk (1903).

Goldenberg, David M., The Curse of Ham (2002).

Kendi, Ibram X., How to Be an Antiracist (2019).

Morrisey, Richard A., Bible History of the Negro (1915).

Murray, Charles, Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race and Class (2020).

Rutherford, Adam, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (2017).

Southerton, Simon G., Losing a Lost Tribe (2004).

Tisby, Jemar, The Color of Compromise (2019).

Wallis, Jim, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America (2016).

Williams, Thomas C., Self-Portrait in Black and White (2019).

Documentary

Holy Hierarchy: The Religious Roots of Racism in America, Directed by Jeremiah Camara, (2020), https://www.amazon.com/Holy-Hierarchy-Religious-Racism-America/dp/B083CN61VP/ref=pd_ybh_a_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=VYR9RY1HMZVG5PH7AQ4V

[1] This essay defines “racism” as the belief that one group of humans is unequal to another group in inherent quality, dignity, potential and/or rights resulting in inequitable treatment of the groups. The term “racist” here means a person or group who holds or espouses racist beliefs and acts according to those beliefs.

“Race” is harder to define. The term has outlasted any positive use, except as a tool to overcome racism — i.e., to become antiracist. See Kendi, Ibram X., How to Be an Antiracist (2019). The mapping and understanding of the human genome provide useful tools for understanding issues that were bungled by old notions of race.

[2] Nelson, Russell, “The Love and Laws of God,” https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-byu-transcript-september-2019 (accessed June 19, 2020) (emphasis in original).

[3] The Mormon church claims to recognize personal revelation and answers to individuals’ prayer for church members and possibly even some non-church members, but god reserves for exclusive distribution through church leadership his doctrine, commands and other information of divine import for mankind in general. A corollary of this doctrine is that any personal revelation contradicting revelations from church prophets is by definition illegitimate.

[4] Official Declaration 2, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/od/2?lang=eng (accessed April 11, 2020). See generally Harris, Matthew, The LDS Gospel Topics Essays (2020); Harris, Matthew, The Mormon Church and Blacks (2015); Dehlin, John, host. “Whiteness Theology and the Evolution of Mormon Racial Teachings — Matt Harris,” Mormon Stories, Mormon Stories, Dec. 1, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmjj2kbxFnQ.

[5] The church banned women of any race from receiving the priesthood. Many people within the church are awaiting the revelation that changes the proscription.

[6] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng (downloaded 3/9/2020).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] God “has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that … every faithful, worthy man … may receive the holy priesthood….”

[10] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng (downloaded 3/9/2020).

[11] Holland, Jeffrey, “My Words … Never Cease,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/04/my-words-never-cease?lang=eng (May 29, 2020) (god gives “continuing revelation” to Mormon prophets, seers and revelators).

[12] See generally Goldenberg, David M., The Curse of Ham (2002); Morrisey, Richard A., Bible History of the Negro (1915); Wallis, Jim, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America (2016).

[13] Genesis 4:8–15.

[14] Genesis 9:18–27.

[15] Genesis 4:8–15.

[16] Genesis 9:18–27.

15 Genesis 9:25.

16 Goldenberg, David M., The Curse of Ham (2002).

[19] Kendi, Ibram X., How to Be an Antiracist (2019).

[20] See Collins, Donald E., When the Church Bell Rings Racist p. 4 (1998).

[21] Report on Slavery and Racism, https://sbts-wordpress-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/sbts/uploads/2018/12/Racism-and-the-Legacy-of-Slavery-Report-v4.pdf#page=6

[22] Kull, Irving, Presbyterian Attitudes Toward Slavery p. 106 , file:///C:/Users/David/Documents/00%20Podcast,%20Book%20and%20Blog/0%20Blog/0000%2021%20Racism,%20Culture%20&%20Revelation/Articles/Kull%20Presbyterianism%20&%20Race.pdf (downloaded July 12, 2020).

[23] “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/cultural-diversity/african-american/brothers-and-sisters-to-us.cfm (downloaded April 2020).

[24] https://focusmidsouth.com/blog/crossing-the-racial-divide-on-sunday-mornings/

[25] Book of Moses, Introduction, Pearl of Great Price (2013) (“An extract from the book of Genesis of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible….”)

[26] Book of Moses 7:22.

[27] The other three are the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.

[28] Book of Moses 5:18.

[29] Book of Moses 5:24–25

[30] Book of Moses 7:8.

[31] Book of Abraham 1:21–27.

[32] Book of Abraham 1:27.

[33] 2013 Race Essay, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng (accessed July 12, 2020).

[34] Book of Moses 7:22.

[35] Book of Moses 7:8.

[36] 2013 Race Essay, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng (accessed July 12, 2020).

[37] 2013 Race Essay, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

[38] “The Living Prophet: The President of the Church,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-of-the-living-prophets-student-manual-2016/chapter-2?lang=eng

[39] http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/brigham1852feb5_priesthoodandblacks.htm

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Journal of Discourses 22:304.

[44] Bush, Lester, Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview, Dialogue 8 (Spring 1973), https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/04/mormonisms-negro-doctrine-an-historical-overview/

[45] Quoted in Curse of Cain?, http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/curseofcain_part3.htm.

[46] Id.

[47] Stack, “Landmark ‘Mormon Doctrine’ Goes Out of Print, https://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/ci_15137409 (May 15, 2020).

[48] Footnote 54 below explains the numbering of the statements in this and the next paragraph of the text.

[49] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Races of Men, p. 616 (1966; repr.16th printing, 1975).

[50] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Negroes, p. 527 (1966; repr.1975 printing).

[51] Id.

[52] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Negroes, pp. 526–29 (1966; repr.1975 printing).

[53] McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” BYU Speech, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/bruce-r-mcconkie/alike-unto-god/.

[54] In the post-1978 Revelation printings, McConkie retained the assertion numbered (1) above that Blacks are descendants of Cain and Ham, and that Blacks suffered “racial degeneration” because of Cain and Ham. McConkie changed the assertion that those descendants “were cursed with what we call negroid racial characteristics” to the statement that the descendants of Cain and Ham “were born with the characteristics of the black race….“ McConkie removed the statements labeled (2) — (4) above and replaced them with a narrative about the church’s 1978 Revelation.

[55] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Cain, p. 109 (1979; repr. 4th printing, 1983).

[56] Ibid., Caste System, 114.

[57] Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33.

[58] Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5: 21–24

[59] Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:24.

[60] Official Declaration 2, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/od/2?lang=eng (accessed April 11, 2020).

[61] Williams, Thomas Chatterton, Self-Portrait in Black and White (2019).

[62] Bush, Lester, Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview, Dialogue 8 (Spring 1973), fn. 209, https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/04/mormonisms-negro-doctrine-an-historical-overview/.

[63] Id.

[64] All of the curse in Cain’s descendants’ blood appears to have gone through Canaan and the cursed one of his wives or concubines.

[65] Given the lack of any evidence that Genesis is real history, dates related to Genesis are problematic. Chronology of the Old Testament, http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t94/e392 (accessed June 22, 2020). If Adam and Eve are taken to have lived starting somewhere around 4,000 B.C.E. (Ussher Chronology, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology (accessed June 22, 2020), and Genesis is taken to have been written in the 6th or 5th centuries B.C.E., it does not appear possible to determine the true genealogy of any person thought to have been descended from Cain or Canaan.

[66] Exodus 20:5 (a “jealous God” can “punish[] the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”)

[67] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/language-materials/64370_eng.pdf (May 28, 2020). Perhaps full disclosure would have required the following addendum to the Second Article of Faith: “… but Cain’s descendants will be punished for Cain’s transgressions.”

[68] Van Wagoner, Richard. “Traces of Blackface in the Mirror (Updated),” Medium Blog, https://richardvanwagoner.medium.com/traces-of-blackface-in-the-mirror-bc9002049ba7.

[69] Moses 7:8.

[70] Moses 7:22.

David Isom is a lawyer practicing complex civil litigation in Salt Lake City, Utah.

David Isom is a lawyer practicing complex civil litigation in Salt Lake City, Utah.