Belief  
comments_image Comments

Born Evil: That's What the Mormon Church Taught Me as a Brown and Female Child

The daughter of a Navajo mother and a white father, tells a painful story of racism and sexism in the Mormon Church.
 
 
Share
 
 
 

I was probably in the second grade. The Sunday school teacher in my southern Utah town was giving a lesson from the Book of Mormon to a small class of a few girls. It had to have been in very simple terms since we were so young. I can see now that the lesson was meant to be a self esteem-builder. But it backfired on me. The teacher was trying to show us little girls how much God loved us and how important we are on this earth to do his work. I was barely paying attention since I really wanted to be home watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. I resented missing all my cartoons and being forced to go to church, which I considered boring. But I had no choice in the matter.

That day, however, as the teacher recited the lesson and looked from girl to girl, my attention perked up when she said, "and YOU are all white and delightsome to our lord and he has special plans for you in this world ..." Just then, she came to me and her roving eyes stalled out. She stammered a couple of times because she had forgotten that her rote lesson was being delivered in a class that now included a little brown girl. An Indian that the Book of Mormon (I later found out) describes as bloodthirsty, fierce and loathsome. An Indian whose skin was dark because of a curse from God.

After gulping a couple of times, she said something like "but Neeta here is a Lamanite (the Book of Mormon's name for the descendants of Laman, who was cursed with dark skin for displeasing god) and we welcome her. They too, if they work very hard can go to the Celestial Kingdom." That being the highest of the three kingdoms in heaven. I was told that if I made it to the Celestial Kingdom my skin would turn light.

This promise of skin lightening was commonly preached when I was growing up. In fact, there was a Paiute woman in our town who had vitiligo, "a skin condition in which there is a loss of brown color (pigment) from areas of skin, resulting in irregular white patches that feel like normal skin." My full-blood Navajo mother, Flora, a devoted Mormon, said that one of the bishops had told Mrs. Kanosh that the skin-color change was her reward from God for going to church. My mother was so pleased with this news. She loved anything that pointed to proof the Mormon gospel was true.

Gradually, over the next few years, I learned more of what Joseph Smith (the founder of the church and the author of the Book of Mormon) had said about Indians. We were innately wicked. We converted ones had to be constantly watched against reverting to our evil, heathen ways. This was on top of the church's attitudes toward women. The General Counsel (the church's highest governing body) instructed women to obey their husbands, the priesthood holders. Another instruction I remember: The priesthood holder should love the lord first and then his wife. One really had to accept a lot of demoralization to be female AND BROWN when I was growing up Mormon.

Attitude was bolstered by action. The church's Indian Placement Program ran from 1947 to 1996. Its mission was to remove children from desolate reservations and help them get an education by placing them in Mormon foster homes. Any child involved had to be baptized in order to participate. Nothing subtle about this virtual kidnapping. The church took children away from their homes to assimilate them into Mormon culture.

As the daughter of a Navajo mother and a white father, I straddled two cultures differently than the foster kids. I had many relatives on the reservation and spent much time in the summers there. But it wasn't home. In talking with some of the foster kids, I learned they had a hard time when they were younger. Some didn't want to join the church but were forced into it. They found it difficult to live in two worlds, the white world during the school year and then back on the reservation during the summer. Some of them sadly recounted that they were made fun of back on the reservation because they had lost some of their language and traditional knowledge.

The majority of the Indian students attending school in our town were not foster kids but lived instead at the Indian dormitory on the outskirts. There was no requirement there to join the church. But those kids also told me about being homesick and feeling like an outsider in both worlds.

Today, it's clear to most people that taking young children away from their families and culture is NOT a good thing. In fact, it's terrible. And it happened to 20,000 children in the Mormon church's Indian Placement Program.

These decades-old memories came flooding back to me when I saw a recent report that Lamanite action figures were being sold at the church-owned Deseret Bookstore and online by a private company, Latter Day Designs.

The Book of Mormon descriptions I came to strongly resent are used for each product.

Behold:

Photobucket
Lamanite Warrior
[01020]    $5.95

Lamanite Warriors were lazy and idolatrous ... wild and ferocious ... believing in the false traditions of their fathers. They trusted in their own abilities and not in the strength of the Lord. The Book of Mormon tells that the heads of the Lamanites were shorn, they were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins... (Alma 3) They were armed with bows, arrows, stones and slings. ...They had marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites... These wicked warriors ... reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery ...

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.

Laman
[01005]    $5.95

Laman, the oldest son of Lehi and Sariah, was stubborn, hard-hearted, and did not believe in the righteous teachings of his father, Lehi. The Book of Mormon records that Laman was so rebellious that he refused to listen when an angel from the Lord told him to change his behavior. Laman was a troublemaker and seldom helped his family. His wickedness caused his parents a great deal of pain and sorrow.

Photobucket
(Laman is available in two versions. The one on the right has been cursed by god with dark skin for his wickedness.)

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.

Photobucket
King Lamoni
[01019]    $5.95

King Lamoni was a ruthless leader who ruled his people harshly. He often executed servants for being careless with his herds of sheep. Ammon, desiring to teach the Gospel to the Lamanites, fasted and prayed for guidance from the Lord. He became a faithful servant to King Lamoni. Recorded in The Book of Mormon (Alma 18 & 19) is the marvelous conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Lamoni, the queen, servants, and many of his people. Lamoni repented and helped his people become zealous in keeping the commandments of God.

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 30 April, 2009.

There are three more Lamanite action figures. However, they are good guys and are approved by God for their good works unto him.  It's curious though. Shouldn't their skin have been lightened for being such obedient souls? By the way, that hot-buff one is called a Stripling Warrior because he's young. Conveniently, there were exactly 2000 of them in the Book of Mormon for important plot purposes.

PhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucket

Mormons weren't the only people who believed that the curse of Cain was dark skin. That was once the standard Christian view. But Mormons took it very seriously and barred African Americans from holding the priesthood because of the curse. I was 22 years old in 1978 when the church back-pedaled and allowed black men to hold the priesthood. That was quite a big step in damage control. But the teachings that produced the racist beliefs in the first place have never been officially repudiated. Still, I never thought I'd see African Americans allowed into the priesthood. It was hardly enough to keep me in the church and I left shortly afterward.

All the derogatory descriptions about Lamanites remain in the Book of Mormon in verses like Alma 3:6:

"And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men."

Those descriptions live on in Sunday school lessons and action figures for impressionable Mormon children. It's hard to change the word of God in books like that, so the record on what the Mormons think of Indians is written on golden plates, never to be changed.

How one can be Indian and a member of the Mormon church is completely beyond me.

Neeta Lind is the community organizer of SFKossacks and Native American Netroots. Neeta has lead the Native American Caucus at Netroots Nation every year since 2006.
 
See more stories tagged with: