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The Mormon Church No Longer Believes That Dark Skin Is a Punishment from God

In an article released this month by the Church of Latter-day Saints, leaders and historians are cited in what is meant to be an explicit disapproval of past racially restrictive policies. Yet an actual read of the article is disappointing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, was started about 30 years before the Civil War by a bunch of white farmers, so it should come as no surprise that their track record on race relations has been, at best, mixed. For over 150 years of their 180-year existence, members of the church with African ancestry have been barred from serving in the pastorate, and despite a revelation in 1978 lifting the ban, the issue of race and priesthood have never been directly addressed, that is, until now.


In an article released this month by the LDS from their headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, church leaders and historians are cited in what is meant to be an explicit disapproval of past racially restrictive policies. Yet, an actual read of the article is disappointing.

What should be a mixture of apology and hope for black members reads more like a quasi-historical blame game, dumping some of it on Brigham Young, most of it on America’s mores during the early 19th century, yet none of it on the racism inherent in the doctrine. At no point does the LDS’s statement break canon or actually admit fault.

They even suggest that Brigham Young actually wanted black members to be part of the church by referring to the quote, “blacks would ‘have [all] the privilege and more’ of other members in the future” from a speech in 1852, which also includes gems like, “Cain and his posterity must wear the mark which God put upon them; and his white friends may wash the race of Cain with fuller's soap every day; they cannot wash away Gods mark" (Page 2, “To The Saints”).

This view is still the driving justification behind racism against black members in multiple religious groups, including Syriac Christianity and the Southern Baptist church. Those same ideals are echoed in sermons today, but no responsibility is taken for the incongruent racial implications because they are part of the Holy Scripture, and therein lies the problem. This is especially difficult for black members of the LDS church, who’ve had to ignore the worldview where they are not worthy of attaining higher rank or ultimate salvation.

Nearly ten years after the ban on priesthood was lifted, historian Wayne J. Embry interviewed African American members of the LDS church, and found that in all of the interviews there were “reported incidents of aloofness on the part of white members, a reluctance or a refusal to shake hands with them or sit by them, and racist comments made to them." Some even reported being called the n-word. At church.

Perhaps the biggest modern issue is with black members themselves, who are more comfortable accepting their “cursed” status because it is gospel. As recently as 1998, a professor at BYU wrote of the African American congregants, “They tell me these ideas came from their parents or Seminary and Sunday School teachers, and they have never questioned them. They seem largely untroubled by the implicit contradiction to basic gospel teachings.” Despite the church’s increasing attempts at diversity, their demographics are still skewed 87 percent white, and historically the church has been slow and resistant to change, like civil rights and gay marriage.

So no matter what the LDS church says about the history of the American West and the disavowal of blameless theories, the ideas that “black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a pre-mortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else,” there will still always be racism in the heart of the church, right there in "reformed Egyptian" on a couple of golden tablets in Heaven.