Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2010, January 25

“Racism in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 5?” by grego

Racism in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 5?

grego
(c) 2010

Some would say that these verses show racism in the Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 5:21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

Sorry to be a little technical, but technical is what it has to be…

Being that the leaders of the Lamanites and the Nephites were literal brothers, I’m not sure “race” is even a suitable term.

“Dark skin as a bad thing to God” is not appropriate, either, as it had to do with the Nephites, not God, and it was done as an appropriate physical representation of a metaphor the Nephites and Lamanites understood, and likely to additionally remind the Nephites (not the Lamanites) of the reason to not intermarry with the Lamanites.

“Creating a distinguishing mark that the Nephites would find non-enticing” would probably be most appropriate as a description of what’s going on.

Is that racist? I can’t see how, unless you were reading into it, as it clearly relies on cultural attraction of Nephites. Had the Nephites originally been dark, and darkness were a symbol or metaphor of righteousness in their culture, it is possible that the mark put on the Lamanites by God, would have been to have white skin…

It’s also essential to distinguish between the “mark” (dark skin) and the “curse/ cursing” (cut off from God, resulting in being an idle people, etc.) (see Alma 3 for this clearer discussion on mark and curse).

Well, the critic might say, what about this part?:
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
And that verse comes right after talking about the dark skin (verse 21)!

Correct, it does. However, it also comes right before the verse talking about the curse (not the mark/ dark skin) (verse 23).

Also, note in that verse that the “loathsome”ness would be there unless the Lamanites repented; and in the Book of Mormon, in more than one place, the Lamanites *do* repent, they become industrious instead of idle, but their skin color does not change; so that “loathsome”ness is talking about the curse, not the mark/ dark skin.

There are a few other places in the Book of Mormon that other things are said:
Jacob 3:5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you…
6 And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.
7 Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?
8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
9 Wherefore, *a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers*.
10 Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day.

Jacob is clear here talking about the dark-skinned Lamanites: don’t treat people negatively because of their skin color; the part that matters when we stand before God is the purity of our hearts, and why/ why not.

Other prophets (Alma in Alma 9, Nephi in Helaman 7, and Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 15) all talk about the decadent state of the Lamanites being their fathers’ fault, and that the Lord will preserve them and bless them later.

These promises are for the Lamanites before Jesus Christ’s coming, and the Lamanites afterwards (these were two different groups).

Note that there were always Nephites who left, went over to, and at least sometimes married the Lamanites, and from the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi on, some converted and/ or peaceful Lamanites among the Nephites.

Take care!

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13 Comments »

  1. That’s the problem with reading the scriptures without thinking about the whole context. Race, as you know, can’t be defined, in our standard, by mere black and white; not even gray or brown. Skin color can’t be defined by any certain color, especially for our time and standard. Therefore, it is important to understand why authors talked about race, and the way the Translators interpreted their statements. The Bible and the Book of Mormon translators used two colors to explain two things: The purity in heart and what is sinful. They authors of the scriptures used these the concept of color to explain the forces of the devil and that of God: White which symbolizes purity and the dark or black to denote evil spirit. These are metaphorical applications.
    If you read carefully, the Lamanites and the Nephites changed progressively at a space of about a hundred years since their forefathers landed on the shores of their land. The change in their complexion was a result of disobedience, the same way the change of skin color or complexion of the rebellious descendants of Adam which Biblical authors attributed to their desires to do evil. Whether there was an actual skin color change or not, their actions were said to be the reason why the Nephite Nation ceased to exist! their pride and their turning-away from their God and the ways of their fore-fathers. To assume that those who wrote this text were racists is somewhat a modern interpretation because race is a modern construct.
    Take for instance another misconstrued element found on the the Bible and the Book of Mormon: Men and Women (Male and Female) role in society. Today, many scholars are struggling with the perception that Bible authors may have been sexists or were gender-bias. What many readers and critics forgot is the fact that women played no or little role in the religious structure of Judaism and the early Jewish religion. Men were primary custodians of the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Religious rites of their religion. However, women did play a part in their religious rites, but weren’t talked about in the scriptures. When Christ was taken to be blessed in the temple, there were priestesses in the temple. Thus, the scripture teachings centered on the hierarchical structure of the Davidian order and to assume that these men were sexists or that the authors of the scriptures were racists is not true also.
    What you should read is the message that transpired from their struggle to survive as a people. If you are a Mormon and read the D&C extensively, you will find a lot of writings that deals with modern times: On things that are not stressed in earlier writings of the prophets. If you are a Bible reader, you should read carefully also of the writings of Paul to the people of Asia Minor in which he attempted to explain the cultures of people in relationship to the New Covenant. While stressing the point that women should listen to their husband, he also wrote that all people (regardless) should worship their god according to the dictate of their conscience.
    The danger with selected readers like you is that you tend to stuck with one piece of the whole picture. The scriptures (Bible of BOM) explain societies that covered a space of thousands of years (Bible) and hundreds of years (BOM), thus to pick a single piece to make a case against the entire scripture is not a smart thing to do cos you are confusing yourself further and further.

    Comment by Jaytee — 2010, January 25 @ 5:29 pm

  2. Hi Jaytee,

    I agree with most of what you said!

    “If you read carefully, the Lamanites and the Nephites changed progressively at a space of about a hundred years since their forefathers landed on the shores of their land.”

    I’m not seeing what you mean by this, nor a scriptural reference.

    “The danger with selected readers like you is that you tend to stuck with one piece of the whole picture. The scriptures (Bible of BOM) explain societies that covered a space of thousands of years (Bible) and hundreds of years (BOM), thus to pick a single piece to make a case against the entire scripture is not a smart thing to do cos you are confusing yourself further and further.”

    I’m not sure what this part means either? Perhaps we do disagree, or are we miscommunicating; why do you believe that I making a case with one example against what the rest of the scripture says? (I said that it can’t be considered racism unless someone was reading themself or their own culture into it…)

    Comment by grego — 2010, January 25 @ 11:29 pm

  3. I love how you people believe this [nonsense] written my an illiterate prankster that was known for his tall tales. When you die, it’s a shame you won’t know you wasted your life.
    (grego: Slightly edited, meaning same)

    Comment by No[NonSense] — 2011, October 13 @ 8:32 am

  4. And here we go once more… Yippee!!
    Was Joseph Smith a genius, or “an illiterate prankster that was known for his tall tales”? If he was so stupid, how did this book come about? How come he was so faithful to it? How come [all the other questions that even the most vocal and studious anti-Mormons have a hard time answering]?

    (When we do die, we will–at least at some point–know if we wasted our lives or not.)
    So, what would you feel is so much wasting about this?

    No[NonSense],
    I’m guessing you were actually searching for articles that *prove* racism in the Book of Mormon? Sorry I couldn’t comply, because I couldn’t find any, and in fact found the opposite to be true. I guess that doesn’t sit well with you, but that’s the facts in the book, right?

    Comment by grego — 2011, October 13 @ 12:46 pm

  5. I’ll agree that this probably isn’t too bad because it is not overtly racist, nor does it call for people to be mean to those with a different skin color. But now, I don’t know what your race is, but imagine being told your skin color was wrong? that your skin was a curse? Something that made you undesirable? I guess i just don’t like the first passage the most because I feel like that is still how society still treats black skin. Again, it’s usually not in any way that is direct, but I am appalled by how many people simply have an aversion to dark skin. I have asked many guys before “Would you date a black girl?” Usually the answer is yes, though some do go for the “Oh, that’s just not my type” right away. And then I would press further and ask “But what about a really dark-skinned girl? Black like the color black?” And this is usually more effective if you mutually know someone that dark and can use them as an example, but at this point the answer is something like “Well no, I couldn’t date a girl THAT dark.” So it’s not just this verse in the Book of Mormon that does it. It is society as a whole. “that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” seems to have worked exceedingly well. Even black people historically amongst their own people value lighter colored skin. Why? Because we have this idea in our head that black=bad. And where did that idea come from? I don’t really know. But this verse would suggest that the idea came from God and that is the most upsetting part about it. And I know that it no where directly says that to God, dark skin is a bad thing. But he uses it to mark the “loathsome” people so there are a lot of unwritten connections, and it’s not hard to see why anyone would make them. Yes, it could have been a black race that God decided to “curse” with whiteness but it wasn’t. And it’s hard for me to believe that that is a coincidence.

    Nonetheless, even if the passage is just referencing these specific people in this specific time, and is not meant to be taken as a lesson about skin color, how would you feel as a black person reading this verse for the first time?

    Comment by klm — 2012, April 19 @ 4:09 am

  6. Kim,

    Thank you for an emotional, insightful, well-thought out/ logical comment that invites conversation and certainly deserves more than a quick retort or even reply. So, I might have a few comments that reply to this, over time, as I explore the scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price), Mormon culture, past Mormon teachings, etc. I’ve read books on just one of those topics and Blacks,so there’s a lot of “going on”. Since I usually write about the Book of Mormon here, I have posted very little–I think just one other article–about Blacks and the LDS Church here on this blog. I have been sitting on some material that I wrote many years ago about Blacks and the LDS Church, the priesthood, and God’s plan.

    Here’s the only thing I have up right now: https://bookofmormonnotes.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/blacks-and-the-lds-mormon-priesthood-abels-seed-teaching-and-its-fulfillment-by-grego/

    About the Lamanites and Nephites: https://bookofmormonnotes.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/book-of-mormon-real-or-imaginary-brant-gardner-and-david-bokovoys-claim-of-mormons-bias-against-the-lamanites-part-3-by-grego/

    For a much more fitting place about this topic in general, I would suggest this site: http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org.

    Comment by grego — 2012, April 23 @ 6:36 am

  7. grego: Kim, I’ll start by saying you are probably talking about two different situations: the Lamanites (and their skin and their curse) and the Blacks (and their skin and their curse). Both do have their place in Mormonism, but are pretty separate for most. However, the ideas do run pretty parallel.

    Most all Mormons (as far as I’ve ever been aware) consider Lamanite skin to have been like Central/ South American Indian dark, not Black. That includes about every illustration/ painting about the Lamanites that I’ve ever seen, too. Which is interesting, because the Book of Mormon text clearly says:
    “For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”
    Flint is not brown, but black! and the translation says skin of “blackness”–right?

    On the other hand, maybe it’s not so clear. In Chinese, for example, “hei” usually means “black” (“hei se” = the color black), but it actually means “dark” (as in “hei an”), especially when describing body parts. If someone says someone has “hei” skin or “hei” eyes, it doesn’t mean black, but dark, which sometimes even means “darker than usual for our race”. But when they speak English, they mistakenly usually say someone has “black” skin or “black” eyes–-which everyone can see isn’t true, and not what they meant. Also, “hei” in Chinese can denote something dark/ evil (“hei she hui” = gang, “hei xin” = crazy, evil heart).

    -=
    Kim: “I’ll agree that this probably isn’t too bad because it is not overtly racist, nor does it call for people to be mean to those with a different skin color. But now, I don’t know what your race is, but imagine being told your skin color was wrong? that your skin was a curse? Something that made you undesirable? I guess i just don’t like the first passage the most because I feel like that is still how society still treats black skin. Again, it’s usually not in any way that is direct, but I am appalled by how many people simply have an aversion to dark skin. I have asked many guys before “Would you date a black girl?” Usually the answer is yes, though some do go for the “Oh, that’s just not my type” right away. And then I would press further and ask “But what about a really dark-skinned girl? Black like the color black?” And this is usually more effective if you mutually know someone that dark and can use them as an example, but at this point the answer is something like “Well no, I couldn’t date a girl THAT dark.” So it’s not just this verse in the Book of Mormon that does it. It is society as a whole. “that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” seems to have worked exceedingly well. Even black people historically amongst their own people value lighter colored skin. Why? Because we have this idea in our head that black=bad. And where did that idea come from? I don’t really know.”

    grego: I follow all that. I don’t really know, either. And I’ve never really understood what you talked about above, with that being the way with Blacks, too; as one relative put it in the 70′s: If black is beautiful, why are so many of the black guys I see with white girls?? Which was a serious question. And it might be society, but I’d guess black guys with afros and white guys with long hair usually just don’t look as handsome as black guys and white guys with short hair. Most cultures I know of generally “value” lighter skin over darker skin, within the race and outside the race–I know that sometimes it might be the notion that dark skin = having to be in the hot sun = manual labor = lower class.

    -=
    Kim: “But this verse would suggest that the idea came from God and that is the most upsetting part about it.
    And I know that it no where directly says that to God, dark skin is a bad thing. But he uses it to mark the “loathsome” people so there are a lot of unwritten connections, and it’s not hard to see why anyone would make them. Yes, it could have been a black race that God decided to “curse” with whiteness but it wasn’t. And it’s hard for me to believe that that is a coincidence.”

    grego: Ok, And I admit, it might seem that way, and that might the simplest way to understand it (with simple being better). And while it could be a coincidence, it feels unpleasant when it seems the coincidence always just seems to be the same… result/ stereotype/ answer that plain wouldn’t feel good if one were Black, yeah?

    -=
    Kim: “Nonetheless, even if the passage is just referencing these specific people in this specific time, and is not meant to be taken as a lesson about skin color, how would you feel as a black person reading this verse for the first time?”

    grego: Sure, I doubt I’d feel good either. And I’d probably think about racism, too. And I guess most people do.
    I know that some people use 2 Nephi 5 as *proof* that the Book of Mormon is racist. And depending on one’s definition of “racism”, it might or might not be. But when it’s put in greater context not just of that one chapter, but of the whole book–well, what most anti-Mormons want it to mean–it’s not really there.
    So I can also understand why people like Malcolm X didn’t like the Bible (same type of story…) and felt that Christianity wasn’t for Blacks.
    When it’s all over, we’ll be able to see what it all meant, and what all happened, and why. I think we’ll be satisfied at that time with what we understand. But for now, there are questions–-lots of them.

    Comment by grego — 2012, April 23 @ 2:50 pm

  8. I am neither pro- nor anti-mormon.

    I googled 2 Nephi 5:21 after seeing it posted on a political website and frankly being shocked. Sorry guys but this looks patently racist to me. I have to say that klm’s response makes the most sense of any I have seen on this page. The rest of you are jumping through theological hoops in an attempt to explain that your precious scriptures are not in fact racist. You are doing so because I am sure that none of you are racist. However the main question has to be, do all of your brethren hold your views, or will some (or specifically one: Mitt Romney) use that verse as a pretext for discriminating against black skinned people?

    Comment by Adam Strait — 2012, August 27 @ 10:14 am

  9. Adam,
    What does one verse that has nothing to do with blacks (or did you miss that in the post?) bring MR’s possible future actions into question? Will he discriminate? The best way to answer that: has he in the past? Does he now? I don’t know him, so I can’t do much to help you figure that out.
    Best,
    grego

    Comment by grego — 2012, August 29 @ 2:51 am

  10. Joseph Smith created Mormonism in much the Same way L. Ron Hubbard created Scientology; and they are both uncomfortable to Christians because it makes them consider the shaky origins of their own myths.

    Comment by Mike Hasselblad — 2012, November 2 @ 4:08 pm

  11. Mike,
    It sounds like you suggesting that there is no racism, but it makes everyone feel better about rejecting Mormonism to pretend that there is? That might be the case, actually.

    Comment by grego — 2012, November 3 @ 1:01 am

  12. Read this entire page (link) – “Skin of darkness” means an overtaking of the person, not the literal skin. I have seen a person so black in their sole, that you can see it even in their face, despite having literal white skin. When a person is consumed with rage and hatred, it changes them. Again, not actually in their levels of melanin, but you can still see and sense it.

    http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/what-does-the-book-of-mormon-mean-by-skin-of-blackness

    Comment by JMI — 2016, September 21 @ 12:37 pm

  13. JMI, I have heard this before, but I don’t agree with it. It was a literal darkness. Yes, there was spiritual darkness, too. But, you don’t have a whole race that is darkened the way that one heading towards apostacy (and somewhat already there) overtaken by an evil spirit is.

    Comment by grego — 2016, September 22 @ 6:16 pm


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