Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This is another anonymous question about Mormonism:
It is my understanding that Mormon’s teach that African American people are “cursed with a black skin” for sins committed by them before they were born and that no announcement or revelation has removed that particular teaching. I know that in 1978 there was a revelation in regards to African Americans serving in the priesthood (A rather conveniently timed revelation IMHO, as there was pressure from the IRS, negative news stories and sports boycotts going on etc.) But is the idea that African Americans are cursed with their skin color still an official church teaching? How is it viewed by members of the church?
Is it still an official teaching? I have no idea, because trying to figure out what is or isn’t an “official” teaching is terribly difficult. There is no book or manual a person can look in to know what the “official” teaching is about anything – even having the President of the Church specifically say something doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it’s an “official” teaching. And since the teachings in the church are continually evolving (which is a good thing), I’m not sure we can ever really make any definitive statements about what is or isn’t an “official” church teaching (past or present).
In fact, relating to this specific topic, several Mormon scholars have reported that David O. McKay, Mormonisms President from 1951-1970, said that “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse.” So there’s that.
My understanding is that Mormon scholars are currently busy trying to draw distinctions between the curse of Cain, and the mark of Cain, and of course we’re all slowly moving towards redefining both of those terms in a more symbolic sense. But this is all largely semantics and apologetics (while still being both important and interesting).
But you’re right, everything you’ve mentioned is clearly within the bundle of ideas that at some point have been associated with (and embraced by) Mormonism, and there has never been an official repudiation of those teachings. But the church rarely officially repudiates anything, so I’m not sure that’s the event we should be waiting for so that we no longer call something “official”.
How do current church members view it? Well, without a doubt, if you visit an LDS chapel this sunday, you will find folks who believe the folklore you’ve mentioned (they’ll probably even use the word “fence-sitters” to describe folks with dark skin). And they will feel strongly about it. However, I think they are a minority, and I haven’t actually heard someone mention the topic in church for many, many years. I like to think that the majority of church members agree with what Elder Holland said about it in 2006 for the PBS documentary about the church when he was asked to explain some of this:
Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …
We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic.
It’s certainly not the repudiation a lot of folks (including myself) would like to see, but it’s better than nothing. I am not anticipating that we will ever see an official repudiation, but I am looking forward to the day when the Church will be both unequivocal and declarative on this subject as Elder Holland describes.
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