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Mormon Church Finally Says Dark Skin is Not a Sign of God's Curse

The Mormon Church finally renounces its previous racist stance that brown skin is a punishment from God—and other growing pains.
 
 
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As of Friday, Dec. 6, the Mormon Church has officially renounced the doctrine that brown skin is a punishment from God.

In the “Book of Mormon,” (not the musical but the actual sacred text) dark skin is a sign of God’s curse, while white skin is a sign of his blessing. The book tells of a conflict between two lost tribes of Israel, the Lamanites and Nephites, who journeyed to the New World and made their home in Mesoamerica. The Lamanites sinned against God, and “because of their iniquity. …the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21). Later, when Lamanites became Christians, “their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (3 Nephi 2:15).

These verses were thought to explain the dark skin of Native Americans. In 1960, Church apostle Spencer W. Kimball suggested at the general conference that Native Americans who converted to Mormonism were gradually becoming lighter skinned:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today… The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter we represent, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather… These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.

The blackness of Africans derived from an even more ancient stain, Cain's murder of his brother Abel in the Genesis story.

Joseph Smith taught that black people are cursed as “sons of Cain” but also could be saved. Brigham Young, his successor, was harsher: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10). Since dark skin was a divine punishment for sin (rather like Eve's curse, which causes women to suffer in childbirth), black men could not be ordained into the priesthood of the LDS church, a designation open to any white male age 12 and older who is "morally upright."

During the Civil Rights Movement, the LDS Church came under pressure as such teachings became offensive to a growing number of people. Simultaneously, the church expanded its missionary efforts into Brazil where almost everyone has some slave ancestors. How pureblooded did a light-skinned man have to be to receive ordination or enter the temple? In this context, Spencer Kimball, who was now Church president, announced a new revelation in 1978, and black men were granted the priesthood. But in Mormon sacred texts, the old racism remained.

Over the years, ordinary Mormons and church leaders have struggled with this heritage. One racist passage in the scripture—2 Nephi 30:6 —has simply been fixed by Mormon authorities. Originally reading that conversion to Christianity creates a “white and delightsome people,” in 1981 the Church adopted a variant that now reads, “a pure and delightsome people.” (Joseph Smith had used each of the phrases.)