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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : How Far We Have To Go » How Far We Have To Go

How Far We Have To Go

MCQ - March 4, 2012

I’ve been largely ignoring the fuss over the racial comments made by Professor Bott at BYU in a recent Washington Post piece, in part because there have been a lot of good things said by lots of others (whom I applaud and with whom I’d rather not compete) and also because I generally consider the statements made by Bott to be outdated, vestigial, and of only archeological significance. They demonstrate that everyone is not on the same page yet, but they surely don’t represent the mainstream of thought on such issues among the majority of the members of the Church.

Well, silly me. I was proved wrong today at church in a most forceful and, to my mind, embarassing manner. A man who I regard as bright, educated (he’s a retired attorney), learned in the gospel (he was teaching gospel doctrine class today) and a lifelong, active church member (he’s a former bishop of my ward) was reading from 1 Nephi 12:

20 And it came to pass that I beheld, and saw the people of the seed of my brethren that they had overcome my seed; and they went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land.

21 And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away.

22 And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.

23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.

After reading this passage, he said “This is where we learn about the curse of the brown or red skin, whereas in the bible we learn about the curse of the black skin.”

I couldn’t believe it. I look up to and respect this man. He’s elderly, but intelligent and well-read. I didn’t expect this from him. I didn’t know what to say because I was so shocked. I considered raising my hand and asking him to clarify, but the last thing in the world I wanted was for him to repeat it. I considered walking out, but I thought that would be rude and cowardly. He moved on quickly after making this statement, so there was no opportunity for discussion. I want to do something to try to make the point that this is not my belief, it isn’t part of my Church or my scriptures. It doesn’t come from the God I worship. But the moment was past so quickly that I had no opportunity for this.

I don’t know what to do at this point. This man lives across the street from me. He’s a friend and neighbor. I don’t want to be rude to him but I want to repudiate his statement. I don’t know if that’s possible at this point, but I feel like I can’t just let this pass. I have considered writing a letter to him or going across the street to talk to him about it. I don’t know if he would welcome the discussion, or if he would be offended. I don’t want to make an enemy of him, but I really want to find a way to address this issue in some reasonably effective, yet hopefully Christlike way.

Any suggestions?


  1. Not much you can do about that spilled milk. But we will all have to learn to speak up on those kinds of things either during the moment, or afterwards to the teacher himself/herself.

    Comment by Dan — March 4, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

  2. I didn’t feel like I had a chance during the moment, but would have liked one. Are you saying you don’t think a conversation after the fact is at all worthwhile?

    Comment by MCQ — March 4, 2012 @ 10:08 pm

  3. I think you should go and talk to him. Maybe he will appreciate, or perhaps you could point out to him, that rather than talk about him to others in the ward, you have decided to let him know how his comment affected you.

    When my ward hit this passage a few weeks ago, rather than hurrying through or around the passage (as is tempting) our GD teacher invited our stake president, who is a member of the ward and has a particular interest in the topic, to discuss it. I know he used an old Dialogue article (or a talk?)as reference, but I’m not sure which–I had to teach a different class.

    I thought that was a great way to handle it. The teacher (who is goo friends with the SP) knew that he would take the correct stance, and anyone who disagreed would, frankly, be more likely to take him seriously than her. Sad, but true.

    BTW, I am not the least bit surprised your neighbor believes this way. It wouldn’t surprise me, frankly, that anyone who was an adult member of the church during the Priesthood ban believed this. That ideology had to be inculcated in them (they taught and defended it as missioanries, and implemented the policy, after all), and not all of them would have bothered with the issue enough to shed it later.

    Comment by ESO — March 5, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  4. Those beliefs remain quite common in the Church, particularly among those of us who came of age before the revelation (inasmuch as what we now call “folklore” were the common official or quasi-official explanations). I do not believe the Church’s recent official statements will change that. Very few members pay attention to press releases from the Church.

    Comment by DavidH — March 5, 2012 @ 10:49 am

  5. It’s okay, offend him. He offended you. And while it’s easy to say that from afar, some of these guys have never had any reason to even discuss it. You’re in a much better position, as a friend/neighbor, to communicate with him than someone some hippie/commie/marxist/free-love advocate like Dan (all due respect, Dan…)

    Comment by Rusty — March 5, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  6. For what it’s worth, I decided to ask my bishop for advice on the matter. He is a good friend, not only a bishop and I trust his opinion a lot more than my own, especially in a sensitive area like this. He quoted me this scripture:

    Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

    Which matches pretty well your advice here, so I will go talk to him. If you have any advice on how to do that, let me know.

    Comment by MCQ — March 5, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  7. ESO

    Not all of us older duffers are clueless bigots, although perhaps too many of us are. I regret that.

    I was exactly thirty on June 8, 1978 — nice birthday present from the Church.

    I served a mission in Germany during Vietnam, and when German people raised questions about both the priesthood ban and the U.S. involvement Vietnam, I just shook my head and said I didn’t understand but I thought both definitely involved the mysteries of man, not God.

    More germane to the posting, here’s an message I sent young married man, neighbor/ward member/friend within the past month. Incicently, although he wasn’t teaching the week the subject came up, he does share the GD teaching load with the referred to teacher.

    “A week ago Sunday during Sunday School, when the discussion led by Sister XXX turned to predictions in the BoM of future wickedness, you commented, saying something to the effect that the number of states legalizing same-sex marriages demonstrated gross wickedness.

    “Okay. How can you mention homosexual marriage as wicked over against homosexuals not marrying at all yet engaging in sex? Or — and more importantly — pick out and make an example of SSM as wicked, for example, compared to the vast, vast numbers of heterosexuals in America who don’t even bother to marry yet engage in heterosexual acts with each other or the extensive adultery happening among married heterosexuals? Homosexuals are a small minority (hence, it’s been easy through the ages for mankind to scapegoat them) in comparison. Even if you see sex among SS couples as wicked (even in marriage), their numbers pale in comparison to the horrible numbers of sinning heterosexuals. Yet you cited SS marriage as exemplary of gross wickedness predicted by scriptures, continuing to scapegoat. In doing so, it seems to me you displayed your heterosexual bias and bigotry.

    “Did I misunderstand?”

    Not at all the same subject, I know, but that was how a approached my discomforts since I didn’t comment at the time in class and had wanted to, but feared the all-to-familiar digressions from the instructor’s lesson plan.

    Comment by wreddyornot — March 5, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  8. That’s a good point, wreddy. Commenting on something like this in class does risk hijacking the lesson, and there is little enough time to teach the lesson as it is, but I still think that commenting on subjects like this in class is sometimes better, only because it addresses the problem at the time it happens instead of much later, after the damage has been done and remains unaddressed for the class members.

    In your case, I’m not sure I would have addressed that subject in class. Same sex marriage is a bit more of a minefield, in my mind. The Church’s position right now is against same sex marriage, so having a debate with another class member about the issue in class is probably not appropriate.

    But in the case of the “curse” we have some indication from the Church that we shouldn’t be teaching that idea, so it might have been very beneficial to make that point in class, if I had had the chance to do so.

    Comment by MCQ — March 5, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

  9. I expect Joseph Smith would have explained that passage in Nephi essentially the same way. Do you disagree?

    Comment by wondering — March 5, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

  10. I don’t have any idea, wondering, and I can’t imagine what relevance that has. Probably Brigham Young would have explained it that way, perhaps other prophets. I generally think Joseph Smith had more progressive ideas about other races, but I don’t know for certain. In any case, once we have received further light and knowledge it’s important to not teach old discredited ideas.

    Comment by MCQ — March 5, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  11. You don’t see why JS would be expected to have unique insight into the intended meaning of BOM verses? Are you of the school of thought that the words were given to him directly with no role for his understanding or interpretation?

    It seems clear to me that the BOM was intended by Joseph to be, among other things, an explanation of the origin of the Native Americans, including why they had “dark” skins despite being descended from Jews.

    (Actually, on reading more carefully, I agree that it is not clear that that particular verse refers to skin color. But there are many other verses in the book that definitely do. You friend was definitely wrong about the Bible, though.)

    Comment by wondering — March 5, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

  12. It seems clear to me that the BOM was intended by Joseph to be, among other things, an explanation of the origin of the Native Americans, including why they had “dark” skins despite being descended from Jews.

    That would make some sense if he wrote the thing, but since he was just a translator, my guess is that he had no intention whatsoever beyond getting the words down on paper in the best way he could. Did he do it perfectly? No. Did he understand everything he translated? No way. Is this inquiry in any way relevant to the post? Not really.

    What Joseph did or didn’t know or understand about these issues is not pertinent to what the situation is now. Whether Joseph knew it or not, we know now that people of different racial characteristics are not cursed by God, and we have an obligation to say that.

    Comment by MCQ — March 5, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

  13. MCQ–

    How about, “Hey Fred, I’ve been thinking a lot about your SS lesson from last week and wondered if we could talk about it sometime….”

    Or were you not asking about initiating the conversation, but rather, about the content of your complaint? If only I knew which talk/article my SP had used!

    Comment by ESO — March 6, 2012 @ 9:08 am

  14. I see where you’re coming from. But since the BOM has many verses that say pretty explicitly that dark skin was a curse, it shouldn’t surprise you that people like your friend interpret it that way. Perhaps we should adopt the position that the BOM prophets that wrote those verses were themselves racists with mistaken assumptions? The alternatives (just ignore the verses, or try to somehow interpret them to say something other than what they seem to say) don’t seem so promising.

    Comment by wondering — March 6, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  15. ESO, yes, the content is what I’m talking about, of course. The problem that I have is how to do this without making it seem like I’m trying to start an argument.

    wondering, I’m not saying there was no curse, or that the curse was not a dark skin, clearly it was.

    The problem is the way that we talk about that. When you say that the curse is “the brown or red skin” you are applying the curse to modern racial stereotypes. That’s a problem, because whatever happened between God and the Lamanites in the BoM, it’s wrong to state that any such curse is still active today and has any application to modern Native Americans.

    Comment by MCQ — March 6, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  16. BTW, it seems to me that the curse that was placed upon the Lamanites was not primarily related to skin color. Rather, that seems to have been a sign or a mark of the curse, rather than the curse itself.

    For example, this verse in 2 Nephi 5:

    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.

    How would a dark skin do that? The curse was that they were to be separated from the Nephites and from God. The darkening of their skins was just a sign of that.

    Then we have this from 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.
    7 And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women.
    8 And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction.
    9 And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.
    10 Therefore, whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites was called under that head, and there was a mark set upon him.
    11 And it came to pass that whosoever would not believe in the tradition of the Lamanites, but believed those records which were brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and also in the tradition of their fathers, which were correct, who believed in the commandments of God and kept them, were called the Nephites, or the people of Nephi, from that time forth—
    12 And it is they who have kept the records which are true of their people, and also of the people of the Lamanites.
    13 Now we will return again to the Amlicites, for they also had a mark set upon them; yea, they set the mark upon themselves, yea, even a mark of red upon their foreheads.
    14 Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.
    15 And again: I will set a mark upon him that mingleth his seed with thy brethren, that they may be cursed also.
    16 And again: I will set a mark upon him that fighteth against thee and thy seed.
    17 And again, I say he that departeth from thee shall no more be called thy seed; and I will bless thee, and whomsoever shall be called thy seed, henceforth and forever; and these were the promises of the Lord unto Nephi and to his seed.
    18 Now the Amlicites knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads; nevertheless they had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them.
    19 Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation.

    In the case of the Amlicites, the mark of the curse was a red mark that they themselves placed on their own foreheads. Their skins didn’t become dark, but they were still cursed. Thus, the curse is not the dark skin, but the separation from God and his people and the consequences that flow from that.

    Comment by MCQ — March 6, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  17. Did your friend say the curse still applies today? The BOM itself is very clear that, even thought the dark skin was in some sense a “curse,” many dark-skinned Lamanites became converted and were just as righteous and blessed and favored as anyone.

    I thought you were disagreeing with the idea of the curse itself, rather than how he talked about it.

    I guess I agree that it would probably be better if we just kind of ignored those verses and never mentioned skin color at all, since it is so easy to give offense. But the problem is (1) it’s hard to get everyone to ignore it when it’s right there in the book, and (2) even the idea of dark skin as a curse at all can seem offensive, even if we talk about it in the best possible way.

    Comment by wondering — March 6, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  18. It can seem offensive, I agree, but much less so if we acknowledge that it’s not the dark skin that is the curse, but the separation from God.

    But where it really gets offensive, in my mind, is when we apply the idea of a curse to modern day races. There’s no reason for that. It’s a flat lie.

    Comment by MCQ — March 6, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

  19. I’m already seeing the lifting of Cain’s curse through the pairing up of blond women with black men, which is the “in” thing these days. The brown gene pool won’t last long with that going on.

    But I really think this skin color thing was an attempt by the ancients to explain material things of which they had no understanding (genetics) using a spiritual perspective. It’s weird so God did it. However, their spiritual observations are still as valuable as ever.

    Comment by Brad — March 6, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

  20. Point him to Hugh W. Nibley’s Teachings on the Book of Mormon . . .

    Comment by Believe All Things — March 6, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

  21. MCQ–
    My SP just e-mailed me back; he used Eugene England’s “Are All Alike Before God?: Prejudice Against Blacks and Women in Popular Mormon Theology”

    Maybe you could try talking to him and if he isn’t responsive, or gets defensive, leave this with him and encourage him to read it on his time.

    Comment by ESO — March 8, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  22. Thanks ESO. Great article. Great advice.

    Comment by MCQ — March 8, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

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