It is popularly believed that the most “secret” aspects of Mormon doctrine are those surrounding the temple. Try and get a Mormon to talk about what goes on in there and you will quickly learn – nothing. They will not talk about their temple ceremonies, claiming that they are too sacred to discuss with anyone else. However, Mormons will talk about the temple any time, showing great pride in this aspect of Mormonism’s restorationist doctrine. When temples are built folk who would normally not be allowed access are invited to take a tour of the facility, to have this peculiarly Mormon doctrine explained – in general terms. Books are published on the subject, classes held in local chapels, and literature of all kinds issued to explain the restoration of temples “in these latter days”.
While reticent on the specifics Mormons are very proud of their temples. Something Mormons are much more diffident about is their traditional teaching on race.
The Plan of Salvation
Anyone who has studied Mormonism will know of the Plan of Salvation. In it Mormons see a panoramic view of man’s “progress” from a pre-mortal existence with God, through a mortal probation, to an eternity determined by the individual’s obedience to the Mormon gospel. According to this account men and women fought in a great battle in this pre-mortal world. Lucifer rebelled against God and persuaded many of these pre-mortals to follow him. When the revolt was defeated, Lucifer became Satan, and he and his followers were cast out of heaven into the earth as demons.
Those who remained were promised physical bodies and the opportunity to prove themselves worthy in their earth life of future blessings in eternity. Some, however, had not been so valiant in the battle, waiting to see who would win, and they would not be allowed such great blessings on earth. They were marked by being born with a dark skin - which is the Mormon explanation for the Negroes. Until 1978 anyone with Negro blood was not allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood. Indeed, Mormon missionaries were instructed to avoid proselytising black people.
The Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith explains this teaching:
“There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.” (Doctrines of Salvation, vol.1, p.61)
The problem here is that, while other religious leaders may repent of holding such views, confessing to have misinterpreted scripture according to their own prejudices, Mormons have no such route available to them. While Christians who held this view may confess to having misunderstood the early chapters of Genesis and the meaning of the story of Cain, this is not possible for the Mormons, for the simple reason that there is no room for equivocation or interpretation in their scriptures.
Egyptus and the Canaanites
In Mormon scripture the position is very clearly explained:
Behold, Potiphar's Hill was in the land of Ur, of Chaldea. And the Lord broke down the altar of Elkenah, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed them, and smote the priest that he died; and there was great mourning in Chaldea, and also in the court of Pharaoh; which Pharaoh signifies king by royal blood.
Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.
Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;
(Book of Abraham, vv.21-27)
A Curse of Blackness
The ‘Mark of Cain’ is thus clearly identified as an obvious barrier for the Canaanites to full participation in the blessings God has for His children. In other Mormon scripture we read the following:
And the Lord said unto me: Prophesy; and I prophesied, saying: Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous, shall go forth in battle array against the people of Shum, and shall slay them that they shall utterly be destroyed; and the people of Canaan shall divide themselves in the land, and the land shall be barren and unfruitful, and none other people shall dwell there but the people of Canaan;
For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.
And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent;
The curse is a denial of blessings, especially priesthood but also denial even of hearing the gospel. The mark is a dark skin. A third source shows a similar picture. In the Book of Mormon the Nephites are faithful in following God’s plan while their brothers, the Lamanites, rebel. The two groups separate and, in order to distinguish the faithful from the rebellious, the latter are marked with a dark skin.
Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.
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.
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 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.
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.
(2 Nephi 5:20-24)
Further on in the same story the descendants of those first Nephites are warned:
O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their [the Lamanites] skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
A Blessing of Whiteness
Indeed, much later in the book many Lamanites repent and join with the Nephites with astonishing results:
And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;
And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;
And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites.
(3 Nephi 2:14-16)
In the Standard Works
While other churches and individuals with such views may have repented of their racist opinions, the Mormon Church has simply had a convenient revelation that gives the impression of leaving racism behind while leaving it enshrined in their scriptures and in their most fundamental doctrines of God and man. How often have we heard Mormons insist that it is only official if it is in the Standard Works (Mormon Scripture)? Black skin is still explained in Mormon scripture as a mark of rebellion and unfaithfulness. Those who have black skin are still, in Mormon scripture, those that were less valiant, therefore proving themselves less worthy, in a pre-mortal life.
According to the Book of Abraham the mark and the curse singles out the idolatrous. According to the Book of Moses the mark and the curse single out those who are violent and despised, to be denied the gospel. According to the Book of Mormon they single out the rebellious, the unlovely, the iniquitous, the loathsome and the mischievous.
To repent of such views the Mormon Church would have to reject something that is fundamental to their faith, enshrined in their scripture, part of the very pattern laid out by their god from the beginning. Lifting the ban in 1978 does nothing for the status of black people in Mormon historical theology. The ban has been lifted as a matter of political expediency, the curse remains as a matter of fundamental doctrine.
In the official Institute (religious studies) manual on the Books of Abraham and Moses these issues are skirted around. For the Book of Moses in particular, where it speaks of Canaanites turning black, the relevant verses are ignored altogether as the manual covers Moses 7:3-4; Moses 7:13; Moses 7:19 and then on to the later verses. Thus by subtle means this becomes one of the greatest secret of Mormonism today.